Supermarkets deploy a considerable amount of science to exert subtle influences over our shopping habits and impulses.
For example, all supermarkets now use planogram software to help with store layout in order to stimulate our purchasing behaviour and increase revenues. Essentially, planograms are used to determine where each product should be placed, not only to make the shelves we pass visually appealing but also to ensure each product is in the optimum place to maximise its sales revenue.
This usually means that more expensive items are placed around eye level. If you think about it, the science seems to work: how often do you find you need to reach up or bend down to pick up a product to put in your basket?
So important is the science behind planograms that some food manufacturers pay for “product placement”, in order to get their products placed in the most advantageous shelf positions. Apparently a key spot is at the end of a shopping aisle, and here product placement comes at a premium.
Beyond the science of the planogram, supermarkets are constantly using other techniques to encourage shoppers to part with more money than they intended to spend.
The strategy begins with the layout of the store. Usually the supermarket will have a “one-way” entrance, whilst the exit is placed sufficiently far away that you have to walk through part of the store, past shelves containing “buy two get one free” offers and similar tempting impulse buys.
Upon entering the store, you invariably find yourself facing the fresh fruit and vegetable aisles, and usually a stand full of colourful bouquets of flowers. Here, the lighting is directed in such a way as to make everything look fresh and vibrant. From elsewhere in the store it is quite likely you will detect the comforting smell of freshly baked bread. Some stores will include a café from whence will come the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. The science behind this subtle sensory invasion is simple: colours, textures and smells appeal to our most primitive instincts, luring us in, making us feel comfortable and encouraging us to feel hungry.
To discourage the purposeful shopper, items which many would regard as “essentials” – bread, eggs, and milk for example – are located in the middle or back of the supermarket, so as to force us to walk past aisles of temptingly placed offers on other products.
The science of subtle influence that supermarkets use is not there for our benefit, of course, but for the purposes of maximising the supermarket’s profits. In fact, many of these tricks are no doubt responsible for us often buying (and eventually throwing away) food products we do not really need.
With their growing monopoly within the food supply chain, supermarkets wield enormous power over both suppliers and consumers, and rarely in the interests of either.
For many of us the radish will have been the first encounter we had, as children, with the magical world of vegetable growing. Radishes are very quick to mature – important when you are a small and impatient person – and can also be sown over and again throughout the long growing season. In this simple recipe they are combined with one of my favourite early spring crops, the broad bean, to create a colourful, vibrant and very tasty salad.
radish, broad bean and mint salad
12 radishes, finely sliced with a mandolin or sharp knife
250 g broad beans (podded weight)
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
for the dressing
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
30 ml fruit vinegar (I used peach but any other fruit vinegar would be fine, such as this one)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Add the broad beans and cook for just two minutes. Drain and then immediately plunge the beans into a bowl of ice cold water. Once they have cooled, slip the bright emerald broad beans out of their skins and set to one side.
2. For the dressing, place the olive oil, vinegar and mustard in a bowl and whisk until emulsified.
3. Place the broad beans, sliced radishes, shallot and mint in a bowl. Add the dressing and mix to combine.