Sonia Heckler

agriculture, climate, environment

Month: November 2016

How Retail Stores Promote Food

Grocery shopping is a perennial item on everyone’s to-do list. It is as fundamental as commuting to work everyday, but have you ever thought about what you buy, why you buy it and how grocery stores influence your purchasing. Marketing and promotion are keystones to all businesses. Grocery stores have many tools at their disposal to market and promote before you enter the store, as you are shopping and after you leave. Many of the tools they use include price promotions, store design, shelf placement, labeling and branding (Guptill 2013, Neff 2015). In recent years, the types and kinds of stores selling food has increased. Stores such as Target and CVS have increased their food offerings, and many stores such as Wal-Mart, Costco and Ikea include fast food restaurants within their stores. With an increase in the number of places food is advertised and offered, it is more important for the customer to be aware of how they are being advertised at so that they can make autonomous decisions.

On a recent visit to CVS pharmacy to get my flu shot, I noticed just how the store creates a space to encourage unplanned purchases of food. CVS, now CVS Health, has recently positioned itself as a health care center by discontinuing sales of cigarettes and promoting its pharmacy. Upon enter the store, I was immediately directed to the pharmacy by a large open aisle. As I walked towards the pharmacy, each aisle end cap offered impulse buys of junk food and candy, then toys and alcohol and finally while waiting in line at the pharmacy, over the counter drugs and pill containers. Should I or another customer get bored while waiting in line, there is a convenient barcode scanner available allowing customers to scan items to see the regular price and the member price encouraging customers to join their rewards program. Red and yellow tags alerted the customer to sale items and coupons. Junk food items were displayed at levels easy for adults and children to reach. With the impending arrival of the holidays, seasonal candy displays begged the customer to impulse buy a sweet treat.

Back at the pharmacy, I was processed through the line, told to wait for about 10 minutes and then stand in line again to be finally processed. Two waits in the pharmacy line and 10 minutes to explore the store gives customers ample time to impulse buy. I decided to explore the store. Upon further examination, every end cap on the left side of the store advertised some type of junk food. Each end cap highlighted a particular brand or type of food item for sale. One end cap advertised Arizona Tea. The labels prominently indicated that the product was all natural and fortified with Vitamin C. However, further investigation of the ingredients revealed that most of the teas contained high fructose corn syrup. In the food aisles, the “healthier” food was often located just inside the aisle such that it is easily missed when turning the corner and classic junk food items filled the center of the aisles. Staples such as bread and milk were practically invisible by occupying refrigerators in the back wall without any fanfare or red and yellow signs begging the customer to purchase them.

While sitting in the waiting area to get the flu shot, displays of lozenges for sore throats and coughs in the form of lollipops grabbed my attention. The display was lower to the ground in prefect reach of a child. At the cash register, more junk food impulse buys were within reach tempting the customer once again. If I had not been thinking about how grocery stores encourage impulse buys, I would have walked out with an Arizona Ice tea and a new pillbox, even though I already have a perfectly good pillbox.

The definition of a grocery store is expanding as corporations compete with each other for a larger share of the market. While these tactics used by grocery stores and other types of establishments selling food are not inherently bad, the customer must be aware of how they are being persuaded while shopping. Awareness and education gives the customer more power over their decisions.



Guptill, A., D. Copelton, B. Lucal. 2013: Food and Society: Principles and Paradoxes. Polity Press. Cambridge.

Neff, R. 2015: Introduction to the U.S. Food System. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.

Crop Regulations

At every point in production, processing, distribution and consumption of food, government regulations play a role. The most well known regulation for food is the Farm Bill. Renewed every five years, it authorizes 100 billion dollars for programs related to food production and processing (Neff 2015). The Farm Bill’s regulations have changed drastically over time beginning as a response to the Great Depression and later morphing in to an expansion of large agriculture corporations.

Agriculture has a long history of regulations in the United States, beginning in the 1860’s with the creation of the Department of Agriculture (Neff 2015). Early farm policies were a response to the problems farmers faced from the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. Farmers were experiencing large price fluctuations due to the inherent unpredictability in agriculture production. In addition, the quality of the soil was decreasing rapidly making it even more difficult to grow crops. Beginning in 1933 with the Agriculture Adjustment Act, supply management policies were used to stabilize supplies of agriculture commodities, which resulted in the stabilization of commodity prices (Neff 2015). These programs included price floors to ensure that the price did not go below the cost of producing the crop and price ceilings to make sure that the price did not spike to high for the consumer (Neff 2015). The federal government maintained a grain reserve enabling them to buy grain from the farmers when too much was produced and sell grain when not enough was produced (Hauter 2012). They also helped farmers maintain their cropland by paying farmers to take land out of production in order to let the soil rejuvenate. These policies maintained parity meaning that farm income kept pace with costs (Hauter 2012).

Backed by these policies, large price fluctuations and loss of soil quality were a thing of the past. Farmers became a strong coalition through national organizations such as the National Farmers Organization founded in 1950 and National Farmers Union founded in 1902. They organized and rallied to regulate industry, create labor unions and develop alternative structures to market economies (Hauter 2012).

After WWII, sentiment began to change in government. Industry felt threatened by farmers because they were well organized and kept tabs on abuses by industry. In 1942, business leaders came together to form the Committee for Economic Development. Their agenda was simple: there are too many farmers. Farmers needed to be trained for jobs in industry (Hauter 2012). Those who didn’t needed to get big and plant as much as possible. Largely influenced by the Committee for Economic Development, the U.S. Department of Agriculture replaced the supply management policies with subsides and incentives to drive farms to plant large areas with commodity crops all the time (Hauter 2012). Because this created a glut in the market, it drove prices below the cost of production. The government responded by putting subsides in place to pay farmers the difference (Hauter 2012).

In this new paradigm, farmers are incentivized to grow large acreages as efficiently as possible. Commodities are incentivized while specialty crop growers struggle to survive. Few subsidies exist to help the small to mid-sized farmer. Some critically important subsidies do exist, such as crop insurance. The current subside program does not take environmental damage into account, nor does it take the farmers voices into account. Whether this current trajectory is sustainable remains to be seen.



Neff, R. 2015: Introduction to the U.S. Food System. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.

Hauter, W., 2012: Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America. The New Press. New York.

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