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Supermarket Shenanigans I


FOOD FOR THOUGHT - August 8, 2007 - Mark R. Vogel - [email protected] - Mark’s Archive

This is the first of a two-part article on food vendor practices.  Be it intentional or not, a variety of antics occur at many supermarkets that can deplete your hard earned dollar.  And by "supermarket" I am not referring solely to the major chains, but the local butcher shop, the corner deli, the neighborhood produce market, etc.  These shenanigans fall into one of three categories.  First, every business in the world has its gimmicks; legal, but nevertheless clever ploys to increase sales.  Second, are the inevitable glitches in the system: simple human error, equipment malfunctions, and other innocent mistakes that can affect consumer costs.  Finally are the purposeful and unethical tactics that the occasional, unsavory food vendor may employ.  Nevertheless, be it legitimate marketing strategies, honest mistakes or degenerate practices, your trip to the market can cost you more than it should.  Being aware of these scenarios will minimize that risk.


Every major supermarket distributes a weekly sales flyer.  Usually there are a few exceptional deals on the front page like 24 rolls of toilet paper for five bucks.  They don't make much money on these specific offers but that's not the point.  They're designed to lure you to their store where you'll then spend money on other items.  That's OK.  The problem arises when you get there and they're out of the special sale item.  Oh yeah, you can get a rain check, but you're already at their store so you're going to spend that other money they were hoping for anyway.  I find it particularly interesting when they're out of the item on the first day of the sale.  Clearly they don't care if they had enough of it in stock. 


The weight watcher is the guy in the deli or meat department who consistently goes over the amount you requested.  Usually it's just enough to prevent you from making an issue.  There’s no point in being contentious about two extra slices of ham and that's precisely what they're banking on.  The other day I was at a local butcher shop that loves to play this game.  I asked for a half pound of ground beef and the clerk dispensed .49 lbs.  He actually reached back into the case and added another dollop of meat thus achieving a weight of .55 lbs.


  Multiply that extra .05 lbs by every customer that walks in his store in a year and you've got a couple months rent.
Another variant of the weight watcher is the clerk who weighs your item along with the package.  The remedy is straightforward:  don’t let them get away with it.


The misinformer is the store employee that furnishes erroneous information.  It may be innocent ignorance or it may be a means of avoiding extra work.  You be the judge.  One day I asked a produce clerk if he had any turnips.  He pointed to a barrel of rutabagas.  Although related, they are not identical.  I stated: "Those are rutabagas," to which he replied: "Same thing."  Did he simply not know the difference or did he just not want to be bothered to check in the back?  Either way, a customer less knowledgeable about food would have gone home with the wrong vegetable. 
Misinformers won't know the difference between pork loin and pork tenderloin, tell you the tuna is fresh when it was previously frozen, give you ground beef when you asked for ground chuck, and frequently don't know if something is in stock, (or don't want to be bothered looking).


The debater is the employee who quarrels with customers.  Debaters are often misinformers who are also argumentative.  Just yesterday I was at a supermarket buying parsley.  Fresh parsley has a vibrant smell.  The few remaining bunches on the shelf were completely odorless.  I tasted one of the leaves and it was flat and insipid.  It hadn't outright wilted yet but it clearly was not fresh.  I asked the produce clerk if he had any fresh parsley in the back.  He picked up one of the lifeless bunches on the shelf and forcefully asserted: "That's fresh."  I got the manager involved and what do you know, the clerk returned with a fresh new box of parsley.  I pointed out the difference to which he replied: "Must be a different brand."  Yeah hello, OK.  Once again, the unsuspecting customer would have left with sub-standard parsley because Mr. Produce-Challenged also has difficulty with customer service.


An example of mistaken identity is when the cashier rings up your yellow onions which are .99 a lb. as Vidalia onions for 1.39 a lb.  Peppers are also good candidates for mistaken identity.  Different varieties of bell and hot peppers can differ by two to three dollars a pound.  Herbs, potatoes, and lettuces are often confused as well.  I doubt the cashier is getting a commission on what he/she rings up so this mistake is inevitably innocuous.  However, there is always a rarer but more nefarious variant.  Sources tell me that occasionally cashiers are cognizant of the error but don’t want to be troubled correcting it, which sometimes means involving a supervisor.  Of course, this mistake can sometimes work in your favor.  In any event, keep an eye on the screen as the items are entered.

In the next edition of “Food for Thought” we’ll review some more supermarket shenanigans.

Also Visit Mark’s website: Food for Thought Online

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