I Spy: Grocery Store Edition

As a college student on a budget, when I go to the grocery store I have two missions: buy something to eat and try to make my bill as small as possible. When you truly scrutinize the products you are buying, their packaging, the nutrition facts, and the marketing strategies used, it’s actually very, well, shocking.

So, last week on my trip to the grocery store I actually documented some of the items that stood out to me, and my trip turned into an “I Spy a Marketing Ploy” game. Here’s what I found:


A recent consumer trend hitting the market is the gluten-free craze. But, what is gluten? Gluten is the “glue” that holds certain food together. It is a naturally occurring protein commonly found in grain products like wheat. That’s why on second glance this packaging claim is horribly ironic because gluten is not naturally found in eggs, so of course they are gluten-free!

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I found it interesting to compare these two products – cheese and stuff that claims to be cheese. Upon further investigation I found that there is actually a greater amount of artificial coloring than actual cheese. Another thing to note is that the cheese ingredients are cheese cultures, which are the beginning stage in the cheese making process.


Upon first glance, this shelf looks like heaven. When you stop to think about it, however, would your great grandma recognize these products? Or would she confuse them for astronaut food?


Marketing Ploy #3: Fat-free cake frosting. Great, this product is fat-free! Sadly, it’s still terrible for you.


Introducing Bailey’s guilty pleasure: Ghiradelli brownies. You have to admit to the one product at the store that just make you stop and stare longingly. I mean, just looking at that picture gives you a craving.


It’s interesting to stop and think about how every store tailors to its customer-base. Take this product from Japan for example. I live on a very diverse campus. I couldn’t tell you what this is nor could anyone in my hometown but there must be a demand for it on my campus.


Honestly, is this not the cutest packaging you have ever seen? Way to go, Pom, you get five stars from me.

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Veggie Straws sound too good to be true. How could chips made out of vegetables taste so good? Sorry to be the barer of bad news but these “healthy” snacks are just another marketing ploy. After taking a look at the nutrition facts, there’s not much difference to regular potato chips. Veggie Straws have 7g of trans fats as compared to regular chips like Lay’s Classic for example, which have 10g. As far as sodium goes, Veggie Straws have 200mg compared to Lay’s, which contains 170mg. Veggie Straws even have more carbs than Lay’s and only save you 20 calories. Honestly, the closest to “vegetable” that these chips get is the small amount of vegetable powder they contain.


These Spongebob themed gummies are marketing at its finest. Though these snacks are targeted to children, I will admit that this 21 year old would gladly buy them.


As a consumer with an education in agriculture, I chuckled at the placement of these two egg cartons. When you look at the comparison in pricing of organic versus conventional, it’s pretty clear that when consumers chose to go organic, they choose to go broke. Extensive research has been conducted on organic versus conventional and no differences have been found in nutritional value, contamination risk, or antibiotic existence (minimal antibiotics are used in laying hens conventionally.)

So, what’s the takeaway? Pay attention to pesky marketing on product packaging and remember to read between the lines of the “healthy,” “organic,” and other claims that are used to catch your eye.


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