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17 November 2010

Supermarket ranting thread. [More:]
I was at the supermarket this lunchtime and it struck me (not for the first time) what a ridiculous amount of choice there is.

You want bread? Here, there are 30 different types to choose from in the fresh-baked section, with another 30 in the pre-packed aisle.

Yoghurt? When I was a kid there was Ski (in 3 flavours) and that was it. Today I had a choice of at least 25 brands, and probably 150 different types of yoghurt altogether.

Tinned tomatoes? Peeled? Whole? Chopped? With garlic? With basil? With chilli? With garlic and basil? I DON'T KNOW!! I FORGOT WHAT I NEEDED THEM FOR NOW!

Whilst I understand and appreciate how very lucky I am to be living in a prosperous First World country, I'm really not sure I need to have 15 different kinds of eggs to choose from - I find the options overwhelming sometimes, as I try to weigh up the pros and cons of each available item in order to decide which is best for me.

I enjoy my occasional trips to Lidl, the discount supermarket which often has no choice - it's this crème fraîche or nothing. Thank you, that's fine. And it is.

Is it just me who finds the amount of supermarket choice we have excessive? Do any of you stand, bewildered, in front of the 27 different apples on display, trying to pick one?
It's not just you.

My rant is that I want a market for those of us opting out of Thanksgiving. I guess it's called Wawa or Seven-Eleven around here.
posted by rainbaby 17 November | 11:49
Doesn't bother me when I'm shopping for myself, if I don't care I just grab anything, or the cheapest.

I've been spending a lot of time at my parents' house lately, and it does get confusing or stressful when they ask you to get something and there's fifteen different options.

It also annoys me when they have stock problems because of it. Like Marks and Spencers has a shelf of canned meat stuff, of which the bolognese sauce is much nicer than the others, very handy to keep around for when you're running low on fresh food... and 3 out of 4 times is sold out while the other cans that no-one wants are fully stocked.
posted by TheophileEscargot 17 November | 12:03
There are even two types of Cadbury's Chocolate Buttons now. The normal ones and giant ones. Do not mess with my head like this, please.
posted by Senyar 17 November | 12:09
When I grocery shop, I generally am looking to buy the cheapest, unless there are concerns about salt or something. So I'm annoyed that it can take a little time to find the cheapest, but I'm not really overwhelmed by choices in the same way.

Why I can't find a decent pair of shoes out of all those available, is a rant for another time.
posted by JanetLand 17 November | 12:14
You'd hate this supermarket near me then. It's been open for a year but I've been too scared to go. Normal sized markets overwhelm me; 150,000 square feet of food would totally flummox me.
posted by octothorpe 17 November | 12:22
I have two supermarkets near me (well, more than that actually, but two I go to regularly): one is a little store with small selection (I mean, not Wawa little, but more typical 1970s supermarket size), and the other is a big ass Wegman's. Depending upon what I want to buy and my mood, I go to one or the other based on their relative sizes and selections.

Ooh, and there's also Whole Foods and Trader Joe's near me, but I don't really count those as supermarkets.
posted by amro 17 November | 12:37
There are 17 brands of yogurt, with 22 flavors, but they're kind of all the same. Good luck finding plain whole yogurt in a small size. The last 2 times I've tried to buy store brand shredded wheat, they've had strawberry, blueberry, 4 brands, but the store brand is sold out.

For high profit items, producers pay the grocer for shelf space. Grocery shopping isn't really about what you want. It's about what producers want to sell you. I'm so everlastingly tired of being marketed to I could spit.

50 types of bread, and why do they stop carrying the kind I like?
posted by theora55 17 November | 12:49
I love a supermarket with lots of choices! Love love love it. These tiny urban supermarkets make me sad :( I go to Publix in Florida over the holidays and HELLO CHOICES WOO WOO WOO WOO.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 17 November | 12:54
Octothorpe, I'd love to visit that supermarket as a one-off but it would drive me crazy to do my weekly shop there.
posted by Senyar 17 November | 13:03
this is why people hire delivery services / personal shoppers, and is why I send the mister out for standard grocery runs. he is like some kind of shopping ninja freak, in that he knows the exact location of everything we need/want, and can get in and out of the store with 2 full loaded panniers (a 3/4ths full trolley) in less than 30 minutes. Likely has something to do with him being an engineer.

me on the other hand... god I loathe grocery shopping. Not just the sheer obnoxiousness of the yammering-on-cellphones masses, assholes who push right in front of me in the line for the self-checkout like I don't even exist, but the worst part of it is that I can stand there dumbfounded by choices in complete sensory overload, with absolutely NO FREAKING CLUE what it is I am looking for, even if it's written down right there on the list in my hand. I have literally walked past the exact [whatever] I needed FOUR TIMES without seeing it.

Bah. I'm good at plenty of things. Shopping is not one of them.
posted by lonefrontranger 17 November | 13:47
I love abundance and choice, but I also enjoyed the scene in Moscow on the Hudson when Robin Williams, playing a Russian immigrant, is stunned into immobility when he encounters his first US supermarket. I also remember moving to Seattle from NYC, where the markets were small, dirty, and very scantily stocked, and being bowled over by all the choices in the West Coast markets.
posted by bearwife 17 November | 13:51
I haven't done weekly groceries in a supermarket for about 5 years, and I want to keep it that way as long as possible. I can feel my blood pressure rising as I walk into one.
posted by gaspode 17 November | 14:00
Could this be a difference in British and USian shopping cultures? When I was a kid in the 60s, my small town (pop: 6000) IGA had IGA-brand tomatoes (whole, peeled, chopped, or diced, not to mention puree and sauce) as well as 3 or 4 brand name selections for each. Back then too, we had at least 3 brand name spaghetti sauces and two choices of boxed pizza. The Quality Market across the street and the Loblaws across the railroad tracks had slightly smaller selections in canned goods but huge bakery and produce sections.

As an example, my primary grocery store now has at any given time at least 13 different brands of potato chips, each brand with its particular flavors, easily 50 options, and that is not counting the tortilla/corn chips and other snacks.
posted by Ardiril 17 November | 14:17
Freedom of choice is what you got
Freedom from choice is what you want
posted by Eideteker 17 November | 14:19
I love grocery shopping. I have since I was a kid.

I am a weirdo.
posted by mudpuppie 17 November | 15:11
I'm with you mudpuppie. I love grocery shopping, but I prefer to do it when there is no one else around.
posted by sperose 17 November | 15:15
I like grocery shopping, too, but not if the store is too crowded (and sometimes in NYC they are ridiculously crowded because they're so small to begin with).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 17 November | 15:21
I also love grocery shopping. Grocery stores really cheer me up. But I do think the number of choices/varieties is just super ridiculous and I find it a sad sign of what happens in a society with fucked-up priorities.

Have you ever watched the TED talk Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce? It's about this one guy (basically it's one guy) responsible for the bewildering array of niche product choices.
posted by Miko 17 November | 15:51
Despite the rant, I do enjoy buying food, being able to choose what I want to eat, but there's just So Much Stuff. Way too much.
posted by Senyar 17 November | 16:05
They could take away 95% of my grocery store and I would not care. It would be nice to walk down just one isle and get everything i need. Just don't let them cut any of the 5% I do buy.
posted by DarkForest 17 November | 17:12
I get almost paralysed when I have to buy food, because there's just way too much choice. In the supermarket I usually go to, there is half an aisle of pre-packaged bread and another whole section with stuff from the on-site bakery and it drives me insane trying to choose. I just want a fucking loaf of bread and I'm happy to choose from white or wholegrain, damnit!

One thing that has helped me is the fairly new requirement to include 'unit pricing', meaning that all products have to include a price per unit so you can compare the prices without having to do the maths. For example, toilet paper (which, again, has a stupid array of choices) includes a price per sheet for each product, so it's easy to identify the cheapest. But still, too much choice. Waaaaaay too much.
posted by dg 17 November | 17:18
I work in a supermarket..any questions?? I understand about the huge variety of items, but heaven forbid we stop carrying the one variety of something that doesn't sell well: you can guarantee someone will be upset by that. You just can't please people. Lol.
posted by redvixen 17 November | 17:51
I blame maxi pads. It started with wings. Then overnight. Then extra long. Then a billion combinations of all of the above.

From there it invaded paper towels: Select-a-size, mega roll, print, plain. And toothpaste? whitening, tartar control, sensitive teeth, paste, gel, mouthwash.

Hadn't seen that TED, meeks, I will check it out.
posted by chewatadistance 17 November | 18:11
Even the big supermarket near here has a tiny range of choices. Sometimes to make one dish I might need to go to 2 or 3 different supermarkets because one store doesn't have all the ingredients.

Converse to that I needed a cup of tea and lie down after going into my first North American supermarket. SO.MUCH.STUFF. In some ways it was fun though.

I'm very much a dash and grab and escape shopper though so I try to have store layouts memorized pretty quickly.

posted by gomichild 17 November | 18:12
With all that choice, I cannot find diet ginger ale of any type anywhere in Fresno, not even in the bottle shops.
posted by Ardiril 17 November | 18:12
It's true you can't please everyone. In my field we've learned to live with the idea that basically 1-4% of people are going to always be unsatisfied with whatever. They're not going to make or break reality for the rest of us. When something drastic is really wrong, a sizable number of people make themselves really heard. Most changes blow over pretty quick as people's lives go on and they get things back into perspective.

Also, just because we now can offer limitless choice doesn't mean that it's really in response to demand. It's not. WHen I vacation in the summer I often go to islands and small places where the grocery store is small and limited and has been for ages. PEople aren't picketing outside demanding three more flavors of soup. If someone cares enough to mention it to the store manager, sometimes they'll start ordering something for that one person - but for the most part, people respond to choices when offered choices, but don't voluntarily identify a lack of choices as a problem when the basics are covered.
posted by Miko 17 November | 18:52
True, Miko, but this is kind of what makes me cranky about the whole thing - the plethora of choices is not in response to consumer demand for choice, it's in response to companies seeing an opportunity to move into a new market and needing to put forward a visible choice accompanied by a point of difference for their product. If you could only choose between flavours of icecream, would anyone really care that they can't choose between brands as well, if they weren't aware that there might be other choices? We tend to want the opportunity to choose if we know it exists, but if we were unaware that there were additional choices, that lack of awareness would equal bliss to some extent.
posted by dg 17 November | 20:14
I have the opposite problem. I tend to get attached to a certain brand and type of product, and if I can't find that specific thing, I get antsy. Cereal, for example: only Kashi 7 Whole Grain Flakes will do. Or toothpaste: only Colgate gel (no "breath strips"). Or even floss: I need the Johnson & Johnson minty woven kind, not the kind that has weird powdery toothpaste on it. Obviously, if the specific product isn't available, I'll buy something else, but I really hate doing it.
posted by unsurprising 17 November | 21:20
dg, it makes me crazy too.

Somewhere between no choice and superabundant choice in the mass market, there is a reasonable medium that will mostly please most people. I think we've lost track of where that is.
posted by Miko 17 November | 22:20
Yeah, theora55 has it right... it's all about shelf space. The more varieties, even slightly different, a company can put out, the more shelf space, and more shelf space means more sales. Pretty soon the whole store will be salad dressing and Pop Tarts.
posted by Pips 17 November | 22:47
Ardiril, did you check the mixer section in the liquor aisle? Sometimes it's stocked there.

I like knowing all my options.
posted by brujita 18 November | 02:49
liquor aisle?

Oh how I would love a liquor aisle in the supermarket. They have started selling (over priced) six-packs of beer in some Giant Eagles around here but the state forces them to essentially build a little pub in the corner of the store. In PA, you can only buy a six-pack in a bar so the supermarket has to build a little bar with stools and tables and let you drink there if you want. Also you can only buy a max of two six-packs at a time although you can buy those, take them to your car and come back in for two more.

The new governor has vowed to dismantle the state store liquor monopoly but I've heard that from PA governors for thirty years and it never changes.
posted by octothorpe 18 November | 08:20
I'm with unsurprising- for a lot of products, I have specific tastes. I want only the Organic Vermont Maple granola. I want only the Gentle Glide with fluoride floss. And so on and so forth. A store with more options is more likely to have all the things I want.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 18 November | 10:16
I'm almost always buying the minimally processed foodstuffs, and I seem to have developed a knack for zeroing in on them out of a whole shelf full of similar packages. Example: yesterday, I darted down the Zillion Tomato Products half-aisle and immediately grabbed a can of tomato paste [ingredients: tomatoes] and canned whole tomatoes [ingredients; tomatoes, tomato paste].

And often I'm buying from bulk bins, where the variety is actual, not imaginary: organic or non-organic, salted roasted nuts or raw, old-fashioned oats or quick-cooking oats. So I manage to avoid variety-induced rage during most food shopping, so long as I'm not hungry or in a hurry.

I do get variety-induced rage over non-food items, though: when I'm looking for the simplest non-scented [deodorant/tampons/toilet paper/whatever], the varieties of Artificial Mountain Spring and Ocean Blossom start to DAMAGE MY CALM.

One of the great undiscussed benefits to living with someone else: I no longer have to pick out toothpaste.
posted by Elsa 18 November | 13:41
OMG Chocolate Chip Cookies! || Neil Young* and Bruce Springsteen cover "Whip My Hair."