The Sneaky Reason Milk Is Actually Kept At The Back Of The Grocery Store

There are a lot of different places to buy your groceries out there — from major international chains and big box stores to smaller regional or even local supermarkets. But if you think about the many places you've shopped, chances are they have at least one thing in common, and that's the placement of the dairy section. It's almost always in the back of the store,  and that's not an accident.

According to NPR, several supermarket consultants admitted that milk, as one of the most commonly bought items, is placed at the back of the store as part of a deliberate strategy known as "building a basket." Essentially, by forcing shoppers to walk past other items which might not be on their list of necessities, stores can encourage more impulse purchases and higher profits. Speaking with NPR, food and culture writer Michael Pollan speculated that this reason was also behind why bread, another everyday purchase, is often placed far from the dairy. He said, "Both of them are very common items, and so it makes you cover a lot of ground if you want them." However, there may also be a more practical reason that milk and dairy is often in the back of the store. 

More to the milk story?

The refrigerated dairy section may be placed toward the back for both the convenience of the store and the safety of customers. According to Foundation for Economic Education, dairy cases are at the back so they can be closer to loading docks, minimizing the time milk and other perishable products spend at room temperature. From an official perspective, this is the rationale of many grocery stores.

Regardless of why the milk is where it typically is, the basket-building and impulse-buying effects of modern supermarkets are nevertheless real. Marion Nestle, an NYU professor emerita of nutrition and food studies, told CNN that everything in your shopping experience, down to the temperature and lighting, has been highly researched and tested to subtly encourage you to spend a bit more on each visit. She said, "Its purpose is to get people to buy more products." 

That's why experts commonly say the single biggest thing many people can do to keep their grocery bill down is to make a list before arriving and stick to it. That way, you'll avoid overspending and other grocery store mistakes no matter where they put the milk, bread, or anything else.