Failing at Grocery Store 101

By Esther C. Baird/Tri-Town Columist
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript September 12, 2013

I’m a Stop-N-Shop girl. I know every aisle and shelf of our local Danvers store. I know the clerks and they know me. I’ve considered having my mail forwarded there — I’d get it faster. In fact, I know the store so well, that I recently trusted my nine-yearold daughter to go in by herself and buy a jar of popcorn kernels.

“Center aisle, in the back, on the left, lowest shelf. Grab the jar, pay, and leave.” I instructed her. It was a surgical strike and I knew she could execute it.

My younger daughter and I sat curbside in the Giant Sparkle, living out this latest milestone in child independence.
And then ten minutes went by. Then eleven, twelve . . . something was going awry. Just as I was about to go in, she emerged with a suspicious smile. She opened the grocery bag and showed me the loot she’d ‘found along the way’ including brightly colored snacks and candy for everyone in our family.

She’d been bamboozled the way that every food marketing campaign in America dreamed of. In her defense, she’s a kid. She hasn’t learned to ignore the colors and the hollow promises of health and happiness via labels.

She’d learn.

For example, I recently decided to visit the new Whole Foods in Lynnfield. I needed milk and heard that the Starbucks next door was large and lovely. So I zipped a few exits south and entered the new Market Street Mall playground for grown ups.

I wandered into the hipster, muted toned, other-country land of Whole Foods and was instantly overcome by the cumin and cardamon smells, the glittering wine bottles, and the counters where they wanted to make me smoothies and lunch out of grass clippings. I felt off kilter. Dizzy, and simultaneously like I wanted to do yoga. I meandered a bit until I found myself in the gluten free section . . . wasn’t my babysitter gluten free? Dairy free?

A perky young sales clerk came skipping down the aisle and saw my perplexed look.
“Would you like to try something?” she asked.
“Well, my babysitter eats this stuff.”
She beamed. “Of course she does!! I love these banana chocolate muffins! And these, over here, are made with kale. Sooo yummy.”
I stared. Didn’t chocolate have dairy in it? Weren’t muffins made with wheat
The clerk threw open the freezer and ripped into the kale muffin box. “Let’s try one!”
I was impressed with her can-do attitude, so I didn’t bother pointing out the frozen component would stymie our tasting adventure.
She yanked out the rock hard lump. “Hmm. Well, just take it home! Throw it in your purse!”
Like shoplifting? Was I hallucinating?
I pulled out the box of the banana chocolate muffins and put it in my cart. “I’ll just take these
She shoved the kale rock at me. “Take it, tell them Jennee said it was ok!!”


I kept moving.

I had come in there for something . . . something I couldn’t forget to buy. Oooh but look, an entire case of energy drinks that, just maybe, had perfected cold fusion in a beverage and forgotten to alert the local scientific media. And over there was a whole aisle of potato chips with no potatoes in them – – at all.

I stumbled to the register with two bags of food that, best I could tell, was healthy and . . . weird. Finally, I left and real air hit me. The sound of traffic and cawing crows woke me from my daze

I had forgotten the milk.

Maybe they didn’t sell real milk anyway with all that, you know, milk in it. I hustled over to Starbucks and collapsed with a coffee that had real cream and toxic sweeteners in it.

My daughter might learn about the dangers of grocery product placement, but she wouldn’t be learning it from me.