"My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income." - Errol Flynn

Four Reasons to Shop the Perimeter of the Grocery Store Last

By , September 11th, 2008 | 9 Comments »

I went grocery shopping today. I went to Publix, where I do all of my shopping. The store was well stocked. The produce was fresh. The employees were helpful and friendly. As I walked the aisles, I thought to myself, “this is fun.” Upon checking out, I was pleased with my savings (about 20%, despite close to half of my purchase being fresh meats and produce) and preparing to walk to my car, when the bagger stopped me and said, “Thank you for always arranging your food so nicely when you put it on the conveyor belt. It makes bagging your food so much easier.” I smiled in response and replied that it was my pleasure to help.

As I walked to my car, I started to think about the thanks that the bagger had offered. She thought I had been helping her, but I really had been helping myself. There are countless articles that have been published in the past few years on saving money at the grocery store. Indeed, if you are reading this article, you probably take pride in your coupon clipping, menu planning and knowledge of the best bargains available. Despite that, have you ever considered whether you are approaching food shopping efficiently and pragmatically when you are actually in the grocery store?

Most grocery stores are arranged with produce on the left or right side of the store, with frozen foods on the other side. Chilled products are at the back of the store and meats are usually near the produce. Everything is designed to force you to walk around the store to buy most of your staples because that forces you to look at more displays and to impulse shop more. Store managers know that the more time you spend in the store, the more money you usually will spend in the store.

I have no problem with stores trying to get me to spend and I do not mind walking around the store. That said, a few years ago, I realized that if I start shopping at the right side of my store, in the produce section, all of my produce was bruised and damaged by the groceries that I put on top of them later. If I started in the frozen food section, at the left side of the store, my frozen products were thawed by the time I got out of the store.

To remedy this, I began starting my route in the center grocery aisles, purchasing all of the non-perishable items first. I know the store well enough that I can skip the aisles that offer nothing that I need to buy. I then move on to my frozen foods and chilled foods so that they stay together in one part of my shopping cart, and I finish with my produce on top. As simple as my logistical approach to shopping is, I find that I can enjoy a host of benefits by employing it, including:

No Need to Rush

I realize that a lot of savings columns suggest that shoppers should minimize their time in the grocery store. I do not subscribe to that philosophy. I like to read ingredients and nutritional information and I definitely like to explore the unit costs of the items that I buy. I also want to ensure that I do not miss any sales or special pricing on items that I like. By shopping for non-perishable items first, I have no built in pressure to rush through the store to get my produce and refrigerated items home before they spoil or wilt. As a secondary bonus, I also ensure that all of my heavy items are placed at the bottom of my shopping cart, where they cannot bruise produce or crush eggs.

Cold Items Stay Together

By shopping for all of my frozen and chilled items in sequence (frozen, then dairy, then seafood, then meats), I ensure that all of my cold products insulate each other. Living in Florida, a package of frozen fish, for example, will quickly melt if I do not get it to a freezer quickly. If I keep all of my frozen and chilled products together in the cart, they last much longer in the cart and that allows me the time I need to drive home and get them to my freezer before they thaw or spoil.

Produce Does Not Wilt or Bruise

In days of old, half of my produce was damaged by the time I got home because I was putting my produce at the bottom of the shopping cart. By shopping for my produce last, I was able to ensure that I did not damage my produce before it even got to the checkout counter.

Organized Checkout

With my model for shopping, I am able to organize my purchase before I put it on the conveyor belt at the checkout line. Because the baggers usually bag items in the order that they are placed on the belt, I can ensure that my produce gets bagged together, my frozen and chilled products get bagged together and my non-perishables get bagged together. It makes it much easier for the bagger (hence the gratitude expressed this afternoon after I shopped) and it helps me to get all of my frozen and chilled products into the house fast when I get home. It also ensures (most of the time) that bananas and tomatoes do not end up packed underneath a bunch of cans.

I realize that avoiding the perimeter of the store until the very end of my shopping routine is a very simple thing but it really has helped me to avoid wasting a lot of food. I always used to have to throw something away when I got home from the grocery store because it had melted or been crushed. Now, I find that all of my grocery purchases make it home in one piece in the form that nature – or their producer – had intended.

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  • Ryan Duff says:

    I write up my grocery list before I go to the store, from one end to the other. Yes, I shop from produce to frozen food. I normally put any produce in the top basket. I’ve never actually seen anybody throw it to the bottom of the cart to be buried by the rest of the groceries.

    I can hit only the aisles that I need and minimize my time in the store. On a large day, I’m there no more than 20-30 minutes (usually 15-20), including checkout and packing groceries in my car.

    I also normally shop once a week so I’m only buying 30-40 items at a time. This allows me to order things on the belt as I unload them from my cart. Heavy items, frozen/cold items, boxed items (things that pack well together, and lastly delicate items such as fruit, bread and eggs. It makes it easier on the bagger (or myself) and when I put the items back in my cart, the heavy things are on the bottom and the delicate items are, once again, on top.

  • Annie Jones says:

    I keep a cooler in my car for groceries to help protect the perishables.

    The added benefit is that, if I’m in a different neighborhood than my own and notice a grocery special (some grocery stores still post ads in their windows here), I can take advantage of it even if I’m several miles from my house.

  • Provi Hernandez says:

    I really enoyed this article. I think you have expresed so many neneficial ways of shopping in just one article that from now on, I’m going to do the same thing, and try to make everything efficient and fun. I like taking my time around the store as well since shopping really can be fun, and I like to look around as well, and make sure I don’t miss anything.

    I live in FL, so the ice really counts too!

    Thank you so much for your article.

  • mahanda says:

    thank-you for this article, going to try this tomorrow for my shopping. good tips here, specially the produce last-which i cannot believe i never thought about.

  • Pat MaGroine says:

    “Common sense prevails yet once again!”
    But a good article for young people starting out on their own I suppose.

    Here’s another tip about grocery shopping:
    We keep an ice chest in our trunk because we live in Phoenix, AZ. where the warm temps and sunny days are an everyday thing.
    We freeze 2 & 3-LTR. plastic soda bottles and use them in our ice chest instead of having to purchase ice at the store. You’d be amazed at how long they stay frozen in there! So when we buy our milk, etc., we don’t have to worry about it spoiling before we get it home.

    Also when checking out, one of you put the items in order as suggested in this article while the other watches the register for pricing mistakes. They happen more than you think. Those paper towels that were on sale 2 @ $1.00 just rang up at .89-cents each!!

    When the person unloading the cart is finished, proceed to the front to either bag the groceries yourself to ensure it’s properly done, or, to watch the bagger to make sure that they don’t put your bread, tomatoes, eggs, etc. on the bottom with your canned goods on top~YIKES! Some inexperienced young people will mistakenly do this periodically. Especially when it’s their first job. But don’t lose your cool, simply explain to them the better way and show them and they will remember from then on.
    Have patience with them… it’s a hard job and they don’t make much money and they put up with a lot of %$#@*!

  • minny says:

    Here in the UK I do my main shop online. I do the order a few days before I want it delivered, this means when I find that box of cereal I can delete the one on the list. The same with something I’ve missed, it can be added.

    It is easy for me to see offers, and the ‘buy one get one free’s are on branded goods that even on offer are more expensive than the supermarket’s own brands.

    My husband buys any top ups – usually fruit and milk. He is reliable and does not impulse buy!

    I get shopping online once a month and top ups about weekly.

  • eric degman says:

    honestly, this was one of the more ridiculous pieces i’ve read in a long, long time. sure, sounds like you have a nice process in place, but why this is in a ‘savings advice’ blog, i have no idea. i think it’s pretty common sense to make sure your produce doesn’t get damaged regardless of where you put it in your cart. come on. this is an example of why the proliferation of blogs is littering the world.

  • David Mitchell says:

    Eric — I am sorry that you do not like the article. I respect your opinion. That said, what seems like common sense to you may not be so clear to others. I have have seen many people put their produce in the bottom of their shopping cart and then struggle to rotate items out of the bottom as they go through the store. I have also had several cashiers and baggers comment that my produce makes it to the check out line in better shape than many other people.

    Also, I do think that part of the appeal of a blog site is that it gives the reader a chance to think about things in a different way. Even if a reader does not adopt a recommendation that I make (or anyone else makes), it is enough if they think about their routines and how they can make them more efficient or productive.



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