Should You Really “Shop the Perimeter”?


Shop the perimeter, yes, and the aisles too.

Last night, CNBC aired “Supermarkets Inc: Inside a $500 Billion Money Machine.” It will repeat over the next several days, reporting on “just how much the supermarket industry knows about you…and what you don’t know about them.”

I’m sure many who watched it were unaware of several things, such as slotting fees paid for prime locations, the very specific set up of the stores, and even how many times the “bargains” are still the regular priced items, just featured that day or week.

Grocery stores have a captive audience. “They” know we have to go there regularly, I believe they stated 2-4 times a week!

Sometimes you will hear dietitians and other health professionals tell people to “shop the perimeter” as a strategy for shopping smart. The basis for this is how the grocery store set up of the fresh, whole foods being the perimeter of most stores, like produce, fresh meat, dried beans and nuts, and dairy products. Granted, stores vary in their set up; my store has the dairy aisle down the center of the store, but the milk is still at the far end of that aisle.

While this is a good guideline, we need take care with that recommendation for many reasons:

  1. Many stores have the bakery near the front entrance, and part of the perimeter. While there are some healthy items there…pita bread I believe, for the most part, you can skip this part.
  2. The dairy section…low fat and fat-free milk and yogurt and some cheese? Yes. Whole milk, full fat yogurt, and whipped cream and dips? Not so much.
  3. The meat section has many healthy options: fresh fish, turkey, chicken, lean beef and pork. There are also not-so-healthy options such as the highly marbled meats (high saturated fat), sausages, and sometimes various parts of the cow and pig that I would prefer not to mention…
  4. Alcohol! Alcohol has its benefits, but there are some people who only shop this section.

While the purpose of touting “shopping the perimeter” is because the aisles tend to carry the more processed food, but it is important to know that the aisles have great items too!

  1. Cereals! Whole grain and low in added sugar cereals are found here. Oatmeal, cream of wheat and the several ready-to-eat cereals are just fine! It is the sweetened cereals that we need to watch out for.
  2. Oils – olive oil, Canola oil and even the various specialty oils such as peanut and sesame oil.
  3. Herbs and Spices! Flavors and more flavors for your cooking, especially if you are working on reducing your sodium intake. Jarred, minced garlic is my favorite in this area. It saves so much time; we go through about three jars a month.
  4. Cans, glorious cans: I loved canned foods! Canned beans (black, white, pinto, and garbanzos are very popular in my home), canned fish (tuna, salmon, and sardines, gag), canned fruit like peaches and mandarin oranges, and canned diced tomatoes which I buy by the case. But canned foods are high in sodium and sugar, right? Drain and rinse every single can of beans and drain the fruit to cut sodium and sugar content. If you choose soups and vegetables, choose the lower sodium versions, and rinse your vegetables before cooking.

So, while there are “rules” for grocery shopping, break some of them.

Back to the special “Supermarkets Inc.” it was a treat to see the independently owned Kaune’s Neighborhood Market from our own Santa Fe near the end of the special; small town New Mexico on the small screen.


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