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The Pantry Corner

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Lost in the Supermarket

I haven't been to Kroger on North Decatur in ages. Working in a phone bank on Sunday afternoons and preparations for Passover kept me away. I picked up groceries catch as catch can at the Publix at Northlake or Memorial Bend near where I work. Kroger was not the same store. Half of what I wanted was somewhere else. I did a lot of walking all over the store. I also did a lot of squatting. I also did some digging.

My grocries ere all over the store. The garbage bags were hidden on an aisle with no number. It had some seasonal merchandise. They are still moving stuff around, but I was still surprized how far a small list took me. As I traveled I also noticed lots of pretty, new wooden shelving. Most of that shelving held nonfood items. There were appliances, dishes, etc... I felt like I was in a department store instead of a supermarket. I thought about Walmart which is moving in about a mile away one of these centuries. I don't think Kroger can compete with Wal-Mart on general merchandise, but nothing beats convenience.

I of course did not think Kroger was particularly convenient for me. The first thing different I noticed was that the bug spray was no longer directly across the aisle from the pickles. I used to think the bug spray defiled the beautiful pickles and olives. Now the pickles and olives are at the back end of the international aisle. They no longer have a special stick out shelf. They are far away from mustard and ketchup. If you enter the aisle from the front of the store, you have a long walk to reach them. Marzetta pickles are at eye level as are the fancy olives. If you want Spanish, salad olives, you need to reach down. If you want regular canned black olives, squat down. They are at floor level, the bottom shelf.

Finding the brussel sprouts was going to be work. It always is. Unlike the pickles that are at the back end of the internatinal aisle, brussel sprouts are in the middle of the frozen vegetable aisle, most of which is potatoes and which is hidden in the middle of three aisles of vertical freezers. From either end of the store it's a walk, and the freezer lights aren't fully on. You have to search. The doors weren't steamy this time, but you still have to really look around.

Ironically, the brussel sprouts are at eye level. I suspect these are popular. Not everybody likes them, but for those of us who do, they're a regular fix. Being a frozen product, those who like them stock up. Brussel sprout eaters have clout.

The Sunbutter (sunflower seed butter) was at eye level as well, but it was in a corner of the store reserved for natural foods. That was fine, but it makes no sense for those who have a regular nut butter fix. If you want both standard peanut butter and sunflower seed butter, you have to traverse the entire store. Does Kroger want me buying two pricey nut butters instead of a regular honey flavored peanut butter and a sunflower seed butter? God, I hate being manipulated like this!

I hate being left out even more. Even with the prominent display of Marzetta pickles the mild garlic and rosemary flavored peppers are gone, and when I went into the baking needs aisle, there was no molasses. I tried over in the maple syrup area. Sure enough it was there...on the bottom shelf. I thought: "What gives?" Am I the only person who uses this stuff when baking bread, or who makes gingerbread cake, or New England brown bread? My time spent in Toco Hills would tell me yes. While I grew up eating cakes and cookies flavored with molasses, I've never seen them in any one's home in that neighborhood. These must be an old school or Kramer delicacy. Molasses users are clearly consigned to the periphery. Want your molasses? Squat for it.

I resent the squatting, but I'm the determined sort. I also know it's only a matter of time until the dataminers fish me out. No one is unique. Everything you buy and pay for with those computerized registers goes into a database. It's not hard to create a database of grocery orders and then start mining to see what items show up together. This came home to me some time last month when I bought a bag of whole wheat flour and on the back was a coupon for Twinning's tea. Yes, I like good tea. Yes, I bake bread. Tea and sandwiches is a natural combination and a staple of my diet. Whoops.... someone had me dead to rights or others like me.

This is all old news, but it feels weird to be on the receiving end. I hope someone takes a second look at the data I generated Sunday night because if they do, they may put all the nut and seed butters together. Maybe folks who buy pickles also buy frozen vegetables. Getting a jar of the latest Marzetta or Mount Olive offering with your bag of frozen whatever, might be a very good deal. It beats running from pillar to post, squatting, and digging.

By the way I am sure, since I buy my groceries with cash, that Kroger does not have personal data from me. It just has my order as part of a lot of aggregate data. They're going to use it any way, so they may as well make me happier with what they do.

Eileen H. Kramer -- April 16, 2012