The Grocery Store Design

In case you didn’t know, the typical grocery store is designed strategically to influence customers to buy things they didn’t intend to buy. This should be no surprise to you as it has been this way since the early 1900s. When it comes to a SAD eater, this fact can be quite debilitating. It just invokes more processed (non)food buying. Every year there are thousands of new processed (non)foods products on grocery store shelves and companies want their products known about and purchased. So, the grocery store begins to be an advertising playground for Big Foods. It is quite a “SAD” thing that we go to the grocery to be bombarded with more fake (non)food that is “heart healthy” for us.

While I was in Baton Rouge, I interviewed my uncle—Mark Calandro—to get a little insight as to how he designs Calandro’s Supermarket. Calandro’s is a specialty grocery store that is not chain operated. He informed me that Big Food companies are used to laying out their own sections of conventional grocery stores but, at Calandro’s, he doesn’t allow them to do that. He finds it important that the product placement is categorized for Calandro’s customers, not for the typical shopper.

He went on to give me some insight into how conventional grocery stores design their product layout (from way back when to now). A few of the points he gave me are mentioned below:

  • Grocery stores used to be designed so that at the beginning of your shopping trip, you picked up heavy items, and at the end, you picked up light items. Makes perfect sense. Heavy on the bottom of the cart, light on the top. But these were the days when people mostly bought heavy canned food. Today, it is no longer this way… Why? Because, he says, “People have started to eat healthier, and eating healthier means shopping the perimeter to get the fresh refrigerated foods and only dabbling into the aisles. Because of this, the heavy to light rule no longer applies.”
  • People always come into the store on the right side. Therefore, shopping is started on the right, at produce. “It’s just a scientific thing.” He says.
  • And then, there are the grocery planograms. These are basically elevation plans for how products are supposed to be placed. He said that Albertson’s started the eye-level strategy, placing the most expensive things in the consumers line of sight. Kids cereals (and other kid products) go lower to get kids wanting things marketed towards them. Big Food companies will pay for certain vertical height levels for their product, though, not at Calandro’s. My uncle told me to google grocery planogram, and below are a few good sample images that I found.
  • Example Planogram

    Planogram Structure

  • He also discussed the ‘shippers.’ These are usually cardboard boxes filled with new promotional products. They are strategically placed along the sides of the aisles angled to one direction to get the attention of shoppers as they are coming down the aisle. The item is extruded forward so that that product is higher in hierarchy than the products on the shelves.
  • And then there are endcaps. These are the areas at the ends of aisles that face out and usually have a lot of product from one brand. They are similar to the shippers because they are trying to get buyers’ attention. Oftentimes, these endcaps contain overstocked products that the store (or brandname, wants to quickly get rid of).
  • And one of the most interesting facets of product layout design is the patterns that are created horizontally along the aisles. When there is one brand with similar looking boxes, the rule of thumb is to place, for example, chocolate cake mix and yellow cake mix, next to each other so the contrast in color pops and the customer can see more quickly that they are different flavors. When two different types of chocolate cake are next to each other, customers don’t always realize, for example, that one is chocolate, and the other double fudge. My uncle says this is very important because shoppers tend to only glance and if the colors don’t contrast enough, they can overlook items.
  • I was also informed how popular coke products are. Of course, we all know that Coke is popular. But, I guess I didn’t realize just how many people buy Coke all the time. In two weeks, the store sold close to 2,000 Coca-Cola carbonated beverage items (not sure how many total liters of coke, as that would be a lot of math). And, let me remind you, this isn’t the typical conventional store, which probably has MANY more Coke sales. It is amazing how much junk-sugar and chemicals that Coca-Cola products, alone, add to our diets.

So, the main takeaways from this interview are:

  • Conventional grocery stores are so strategically designed that it is a science, a science to get consumers to spend money—and spend it mostly on processed junk (non)food. The strategy that exists mostly occurs for the marketed branded (non)foods. The whole foods sit humbly to the side just being themselves. They don’t need to sell themselves because they are, simply, what they are.
  • The conventional grocery science works. Consumers fall for it. So, as much as we, as consumers, design what is IN the store—via, supply and demand—the Big Guys manipulate us so that we choose things how they want us to choose them. And, right now, they are winning.
  • As consumers have shifted their thinking about health, the grocery store layout has shifted. I find it very interesting that the store used to have different design rules of thumb, with the heavy stuff at the entrance and the light stuff towards the exit. As consumers shift their mental model, the grocery store shifts its consumer strategy. Even though we are victim in a lot of ways, how we shop, as a whole, is very powerful. It can change how the store is shaped and what products are in it.

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