Grocery Shopping Made as Easy as 1-2-3-4

The Problem: What to Buy?

A shelf in a super market
Being confronted with lots of choices at once can be daunting.

Being confronted with an entire supermarket of dinner possibilities may be daunting, especially if you aren’t a master chef or don’t have a lot of time to peruse the aisles. For each item, one has to answer at least three questions:

  • Do I feel like eating this?
  • Is this compatible with what I just bought?
  • Am I getting a good price for this?

This is assuming you even know how to answer these questions. When shopping for groceries, especially when I’m in a hurry, I tend to stick to the basics and get the same things. If I were a more practiced chef, I could probably make these kinds of decisions quicker, but here’s one way I can get away with being less than stellar in the kitchen.

One Solution: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 “Pakketvoordeel”

Shelf with Pakketvoordeel in Albert Heijn
The Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn has devised a brilliant way to make dinner shopping easier

Here comes Albert Heijn to the rescue! Albert Heijn (http://www.ah.nl)  is a Dutch supermarket chain that represents the high end of the countries’ supermarket spectrum with more selection, better service, and higher prices than most other supermarkets in the Netherlands.

The “pakketvoordeel” (Dutch for “package deal”) system groups a pre-selected array of easy-to-prepare food items into four groups. These four groups are distributed in a shopping cabinet into four shelves in such a way that any food items out of any one of the groups is compatible with any food item from any of the other groups and getting one food items from each group gives you a “complete meal.”

Oh, and all of the items in the shelf are labeled with a number from one to four, to make sure you don’t fall for the “I’ll just put it the wrong shelf” trick they do at supermarkets. Still can’t make up your mind as to which meat should go with which rice under which sauce and side? There are recipes on the front shelf that tell you which combination of elements makes up which meal.

Pakketvoordeel shelves in AH
Any food item from each of the four groups is compatible with food items from the other groups

The perhaps best part is that any combination of food items from all four groups always costs nine Euro. Remember the three questions you have to ask yourself when you shop freestyle? With the “pakketvoordeel,” everything’s compatible with everything else, and it always costs the same, effectively taking away two decisions you have to make.

Why I Love It

This takes away much of the guesswork involved in grocery shopping. Instead of having to make three decisions, I make just one: eat it or not? It’s the typical trick of reducing the number of possible choices to guide users (in this case “shoppers”) into making a decision. It’s easier for the user, and it’s profitable for the vendor. How many times have you refrained from buying something like cookies, because you couldn’t decide which ones you wanted?

How It Could Be even Better

If there were a color-coding system or perhaps a vertical grouping scheme dividing the recipes, it would make choosing the right ingredients for each recipe faster and easier. This illustrates the grouping more explicitly without taking away the ability to “cheat” and mix-match.

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