7 Ways to Influence What Shows Up on Your Grocery Store Shelves


Every trip to the grocery store is a transaction — and not just between your bank account and theirs. Grocery stores carry stuff they think you want, and you buy it. And in the case of what that stuff is, the “customer is always right” adage is quite accurate. If anything, a little help from customers is incredibly useful to those who curate your shopping experience.

Here are a few ways that you — yes, you — can help influence what goes on grocery shelves.

1. Be vocal.

If you want your market to carry more organic produce, you need to tell them. You’re not doing them any favors by buying some things there, and then heading down the street to a place selling what you want without making a peep about it to someone in charge. Chances are, you’re not alone in what you want.

2. Be friendly.

As with all things in life, a little friendliness goes a long way. It’s not uncommon for frequent customers to give gift cards to their favorite cashier during the holidays, or bring back a bottle of wine from their travels for the store’s wine buyer. The store’s team members are going to remember whether you’re the one who drunkenly demanded rum in the middle of the liquor department (yes, it’s happened) or the one who asks to see pictures of their dogs.

3. Be a familiar face.

A grocer is more likely to listen to someone they see on a regular basis than someone who stops in once, insists a special beer be added to the repertoire, and then disappears for another two months.

4. Put it in writing.

Those customer comment cards at the front of the store? They’re read. When enough people ask for the newest Oreo flavor or a specific brand of gluten-free pasta, grocers will listen. If you’re truly passionate about a product, write a letter or an email to the manager — anything they can pass along to decision-makers will help move the odds in your favor.

5. Buy what you ask for.

This is key. If a market goes out of its way to bring in a local brand of macarons or that grass-fed beef you’ve been asking for, most likely, it’s replacing something else, and sales of your beloved item are being closely watched. If it doesn’t sell at a high velocity, it’s unlikely to earn a permanent place on the shelves.

Want to skew the numbers in your favor? Become an unofficial ambassador of the product and get your friends to buy it as well. Or purchase several units and bulk up. Better yet? Do both.

6. Ask in advance.

If there’s a one-time or hard-to-find item you want the market to carry, give them time to source it. Tell them what you’re looking for (whether it’s a limited-release wine, or a specific brand of fig) and be sure to purchase other things in that department while you wait for it to come in.

7. Keep their values in mind.

In the increasingly competitive food market, a grocer’s values (and marketing strategy) are closely tied. Maybe it’s a stance on GMOs, maybe it’s super-low prices — basically, you’re not going to find Coca-Cola at Whole Foods. (I’m still feeling weird about the day I asked for veal in the meat department at Lucky’s Market.)

A supermarket that prides itself on super-low prices is unlikely to bring in a jam, ice cream, or peanut butter with a price point that is double that of the commodity stuff. At some point, the brand’s values will trump your needs.