I love learning the ins and outs of how groceries operate and the reason why they do the things they do. Recently I wrote an article about why groceries post unit prices when its in the consumer’s interest but not necessarily in the grocery store’s interest.
Lee and I were listening to Planet Money on NPR recently (a great program with entertaining stories related to the economy – no, really! They are entertaining!) and they had a program titled ‘Why Is The Milk In The Back Of The Store?’ and it got me wondering – why DO grocery stores put the milk in the back of the store?
Building the Basket
You may have heard that milk is a very popular item and they put it way in the back so consumers like you and me have to walk past all the other things we may not have been planning on buying. We go ahead and grab some things on impulse on the way to the back of the store and maybe some more things on the way to the front. Marketers have a term for this – ‘building the basket.’
I’m tempted to believe this but if that were the case, wouldn’t bananas always be in the back as well? Bananas are one of the most popular items but its over there on the side of the store. And bread is very popular and its usually on the other side of the store … wait a minute, I just realized they have me running all over the store, passing by the other things they hope I’ll pick up!
The Chill Chain
The other reason mentioned has to do with keeping the milk chilled at all times. The milk comes from the cow straight into refrigerated units, onto a chilled truck and into a chilled room in the store. This is called the ‘chill chain.’ They do not want to break this chain because every degree a gallon of milk warms up, it loses a day of shelf life. And moving that milk across the store to a location more convenient to the customer risks that milk losing some of its chill. Plus its expensive in labor costs to move all that milk across the store all the time. Instead, the milk is moved off the chilled truck right into the chilled room in the back of the store and stays there until you pick up the gallon and carry it through the store (guess once you grab it, they aren’t worried about the milk losing shelf life so much). The milk stays chilled so you are sure to get fresher milk, the grocery keeps its costs down – everybody wins!
Stores typically have the refrigerated items along the perimeter of the store and the frozen items right in the middle of the store or off of center. It seems strange to me – wouldn’t you want to keep them close together? I understand why the refrigerated section is along the perimeter of the store – it takes a lot of equipment to keep that stuff cold and vent the hot air – you put that stuff in the middle or up front of the store, that’s a lot of pipes and noise the customer has to deal with. Apparently that doesn’t apply to the freezers though. I tried to find an answer to this but didn’t find any – drop a comment if you have an idea why the freezers aren’t along the perimeter of the store.
And the Winner Is…
The consensus from the people they interviewed is that the grocery stores, being a low margin business, are more interested in controlling costs as much as possible than influencing consumer behavior. But influencing consumer behavior is certainly a secondary benefit.
If you find this stuff interesting, go check out the program and the comments:
‘Why Is The Milk In The Back Of The Store?’