Good Food Blog
Spoilt for choicePosted at 12:30PM, 11 September 2008 by Carol Wilson - Food writer
When I was very young, my granny used to take me food shopping with her sometimes and what a treat it was. Granny didn't hold with supermarkets - she patronised the small shops she'd used for years and what an exciting outing it was for an inquisitive little girl like me! I could identify each shop by its particular smell and I can still remember those distinctive odours today. The grocer's smelled of freshly ground coffee, bacon, ham and cheese, all mingled together in an inimitable aroma. The butcher's white-tiled shop smelled of bloody, raw meat and the greengrocer had a fruity aroma with a whiff of cabbage and earthy potatoes.
Granny knew all the shopkeepers - they greeted her with a cheery 'good morning' and enjoyed a friendly chat about what was new in that week, as her goods were carefully wrapped. I felt proud to be included and the grocer never forgot to give me a chocolate wafer biscuit and the greengrocer a shiny apple.
We grab a trolley and wheel it round the supermarket aisles accompanied by piped music and the smell of baking pumped through the store
What a contrast to our shopping habits today - we grab a trolley and wheel it round the supermarket aisles accompanied by piped music and the smell of baking pumped through the store; no one stops to chat as we try to get our shopping finished as quickly as possible. It's a soulless experience.
But surely supermarkets offer us a phenomenal selection of foods, which would have astonished my granny? Yes, they do, but that's another problem - we're all bewildered and confused by such a huge variety of choice.
Shoppers become completely overwhelmed when confronted with aisles of the same product. Who needs a choice of 163 pasta sauces or 19 types of fresh pasta? A typical supermarket offers 38 different types of milk, almost 200 flavours of jam, and a mind-boggling selection of teas and coffees. My local supermarket has two long aisles of different breakfast cereals with 12 types of cornflakes and 13 types of porridge oats alone! Yet research shows that when we're confused by a seemingly endless choice of products, we tend to feel helpless and intimidated and tire of being confronted with new products, so we buy the same brands and foods week after week. Professor Mark Lepper of Stanford University found that consumers who sampled six jams bought more and felt happier than those offered 24 jams to taste.
The smaller German and Danish supermarket chains, quite recently opened in the UK, offer a limited range and much less choice, but it seems that this is no bad thing, as their popularity is steadily increasing. With fewer foods to choose from, we buy what's on display and as a result feel happier and more satisfied with our shopping.
Do you prefer a limited choice or are you happy to ponder over an enormous selection?