OPIRG: Facts about supermarkets

Have you ever been walking in a mall or supermarket, either alone or with friends, and completely lost your awareness of time?  The restriction of visible clocks has been one of the changes made in retail industries to create a space where passivity diminishes genuine activity and critical engagement.

In regards to the supermarket, these changes have lasting implications to the food choices you make. Just within the entrance of a supermarket, there are several confronting issues one can unconsciously overlook. One can be enticed and comforted by the empty (over-sized) shopping carts and baskets, the music playing overhead as well as colourful produce and product placement.

Firstly, the use of large shopping carts have supported the perception to consumers that they must buy much more than is actually needed. Kiddie carts have even been created in some supermarkets to allow children to have their own cart to fill along with their parent’s, further encouraging unnecessary consumerism. Stores have even started to place children’s products at the eye-level appropriate for children.

Walking around the supermarket, the background music playing softly is manufactured to have the consumers (i.e. you) buy more. This construction targets the supermarket’s audience with ambient music and subtle customized messages that have been proven to increase profits.

Muzak Holdings LLC is the most successful company to produce these effects on the consumer by modifying music to change the mood of consumers. In 2011, Muzak Holdings LLC was acquired to become a subsidiary of Mood Media Corporation.

Lastly, the colourful produce provides another distraction from the information of the product itself. For example, the ‘freshness’ and brightness of foods can deceive consumers from questioning if the product is in season or if it is locally sourced.

Usually this information is not easily noticeable, if available at all. This is problematic, as produce is grown largely using pesticides which are not made known readily. For example, pesticides are used on produce during transportation to protect from bruising. You accept this process as necessary, but an ordinary apple purchased at a supermarket has been dipped in fungicide and chlorine as well as being scoured by detergents and wax.

Also, The amount of oil needed in producing and transporting foods combined with impending oil crises will represent a problem to food security. Without information on these food products, it becomes difficult for the consumer to make smart choices.

Most of these brands and grocery store chains, however, have been virtually integrated into major conglomerates, which largely reduces consumer choice. For instance, in Canada there are five major retailers who share over 60% of profits from food sales. Nevertheless, there are alternatives to the issues raised in this article, like making and adhering to a grocery list, using smaller grocery shops which tend to be more community-driven, or joining a food co-op.

If you want to learn more about the food issues raised in this article, including others, attend the Supermarket Tour Facilitation Workshop hosted by OPIRG on Tuesday November 4, from 12-2 PM at the Champlain Living Commons.