How Grocery Stores and Restaurants Manipulate You To Eat Garbage (and How to Take Control)
Understanding the Power of Choice Architecture: Your unseen environment shapes you.
Let’s talk endcaps and menus.
Endcaps are what grocery (or big box) stores call the shelf at each end of the aisle. They are prime territory for sales, and as such, stores think very carefully about what ends up there.
On average, rear endcaps generated 416% sales uplift, while front endcaps generated 346% sales uplift.
Stores know you’ll walk past these endcaps and grab what’s there without much thought. They know by examining scientific data that uses sales, tracking your actual movements in the store, and item placement to optimize conversions (get you to buy).
In fact, there’s an entire field of study devoted to understanding how you eat, shop, and how they can design environments to compel you to do it more. It’s called choice architecture.
What is choice architecture?
Choice architecture is the design of different ways in which choices can be presented to consumers and the impact of that presentation on consumer decision-making. And, ultimately purchasing.
It might not surprise you to learn that items with the highest profit margin end up on endcaps. What might surprise you is those items are often the most obesogenic, processed foods. That’s because the branding and packaging make them easy to display and they offer the retailer (and manufacturer) a high margin in an otherwise low-margin business.
Have you ever seen carrots on an end-cap? Exactly. Presenting you with the most unhealthful items holds true across fast-casual, coffee shops, fast food, and more. It’s not just that they sell the most, it’s that they are cheap to make and you walk into environments designed to get you to buy them.
The problem with choice architecture is that it isn’t done in your best interest. However, when you understand (as companies do) the power of intentionally shaping your environment, you can make it work for you.
Takeaway: be wary or outright reject what’s immediately put in front of you.
Menus are built so you order certain items.
I owned a restaurant and regularly boosted sales simply by placing menu items in the upper left-hand corner. Sometimes, I’d put a box around that item with a small blurb saying it was a best-seller or a house favorite. Lo and behold, then it was. Before you lambast me with unethical behavior let me assure you my little eatery’s tactics (with a menu of handmade, real food) pale in comparison to what you are unknowingly experiencing at the hands of highly savvy operators.
Everywhere you go menus are designed to guide you to the most profitable item and the food your primal brain is most likely to respond to. You evolved to respond to salt, sugar, and fat in combination.
They know this.
Did you buy a candy bar at the checkout even though you had no intention to do so? Choice architecture. Did you grab a breakfast sandwich with a coffee even though you only went in for coffee? Choice architecture. Are there chips in your basket even though you didn’t go down the chip aisle? Choice architecture.
What you buy is based moderately on what you like and a great deal more on menu design, checkout flow, food positioning, verbal suggestions, and the weather (true story).
But that’s the point.
You’re operating in a system that tells you weight is about individual choice while simultaneously designing every possible way to get you to order and consume the most sugar and calorie-dense item they can construct.
And, it works.
They do this in a thousand different ways; I’ve highlighted a measly two.
How you can make choice architecture work for you.
- Don’t go to places that make it difficult to buy what you intended or overly tempt you. Go where it’s easy to order the healthy thing.
- Keep tempting things out of your home.
- Change your drive home to avoid the fast food places you feel drawn to.
- Serve your meals in the kitchen and walk back for seconds.
- Leave the foods you’d like to encourage yourself to eat out on the counter.
- Live in a walkable neighborhood.
- Spend time with people who display your desired habits.
Keeping a healthy weight in the modern world isn't about eating superfoods or avoiding gluten; it’s about seeing what you’re up against and taking action to protect your ability to eat naturally from a predatory food system.
We built a FREE workshop to show you a different (and much better way to lose weight).
You'll learn these insights:
1. The exact way to make healthy eating a breeze—without relying on willpower (or motivation) at ALL
2. How to spot what’s really sabotaging your self-control (and keeping you STUCK) without having to go on another diet
3. How to ENJOY your food–without measuring, weighing, or counting a thing
"What a terrific presentation! I wish it had been available to me years ago." - Kathleen