There is no greater place to enjoy watching customers than the grocery store. It is amazing how (in many instances) a person’s physical appearance corresponds with the things that can be found in their carts. While observing people, it was easy to see that the profile of a typical grocery store shopper varies depending on the income level of the neighborhood surrounding the store. This essay reports on patrons at store A, where the average home sells for almost one million dollars. On the contrary (and for comparison purposes), store B operates in a very low income neighborhood. Two hours were spent at each store on a beautiful and sunny Saturday. The three variables observed were behavior before placing items in shopping carts, the types of items added to them and physical appearance in terms of weight. Approximately 150 people were observed in each store and only women were included in this study. In order to confirm the contents of individual shopping carts, the checkout lines were monitored once every 15 minutes. Customers were observed from 12pm to 2pm in store A and 2:30 to 4:30 pm in store B. The results were quite interesting.
Customers in the first store seemed so comfortably eager to grab the organic produce items and name brand products. More women in store A were seen cautiously reading food labels than the patrons in Store B. Of the 85 women in store A who were reading product packages, almost half of them were either returning things to the shelf and looking for alternatives, or appeared to be indecisive. Meanwhile, the majority of women in store B seemed so free to grab foods without a care for ingredients. For instance, a peek at shopping cart selections revealed 96 of them contained mostly frozen foods, products high in fat and processed sugars. Contrary to the women in store A, less than 40 of the 150 women observed in store B were found reading food labels.
It seemed like the healthier selections were consistently made by the customers in the first store. Similarly, there were fewer than 50 of the monitored carts in Store A with abundant junk food items that outnumbered fruits and vegetables. A final and profound observation was made that shows a common thread across both stores. Among the customers who were ready to purchase cookies and pastries, ice cream and fried goods, the majority of them ranged from moderately to severely overweight. This was quite the opposite for women who were not overweight. Much less of these high sodium, artery clogging items were found in their carts. The consistency was overwhelming and it crossed income and cultural barriers. The most startling discovery had to do with the children of these women. About 96 overweight women were with children who were also over weight. They were either elbow-deep inside of a family-sized snack, or just reaching and begging for the most colorful cereal available. After looking at the quantitative data, assumptive explanations arrived with what seemed like a criticizing overtone.
In conclusion, there seems to be a relationship between income level and food selection. Perhaps the people in the low income neighborhood have to work so much at lower paying jobs, that there is no time to cook daily, healthy meals. In addition, the healthier choices are more expensive. It is cheaper to get a pack of chicken wings and a can of string beans than organic kale, spinach, apples and sweet potatoes. Also, it might be possible that nutritionally dense foods and their long term preventative benefits are not broadcast in the lower income neighborhoods. For instance, two blocks down from Store A, there is an office for alternative medicine and nutritional healing. Whereas, one block away from store B there is a liquor store next to a fried chicken parlor. If there were a giant billboard that reads, “Lets fight heart disease one meal at a time”, where would the sign likely be published? Therefore, it is unfair to assume that people in low income areas do not care about harmful colors, dyes and the hydrogenated oils in processed foods. It seems more likely that they are just blissfully unaware of the harmful effects of their food choices. Only 20 women were seen with more fruits and vegetables than processed goods in Store B. On the contrary, in Store A, 87 of the 150 women had ½ or more of their carts loaded with fresh produce items. Lastly, this study does not provide enough data to support any broad generalizations. However, there was a correlation between being overweight (and having overweight children), and spending money on foods that can keep a person that way. Therefore, it does inspire more statistical research to study links between grocery item selection and nutritional deficiencies or chronic illness.