The Grocery Store Hot 10


yogurt product explosion

yogurt product explosion

Billboard has been in the music charting business for a long time.  Songs make it onto a chart based on sales, not on the quality of the music, so it occurred to me: why not a Grocery Store Hot 100.

I don’t have access to all those super-secret sales figures for food and beverage products, so I’ll take a different approach.  Clearly the popularity of a food product is reflected in the amount of shelf space it takes up in the average grocery store.  So even with actual sales figures, it’s not hard to figure out what the hot food products are right now.  Rather than pick out 100 individual brands, I’m going with product categories.  So based on grocery store shelf space, here’s my Grocery Store Hot 10 countdown, with thoughts on what this means for nutrition:

10. Bakery items: Yes in spite of gluten hysteria, bread products are clearly a big seller.  And of those, I’d say it’s about 80% white bread or pastries and sweets made with white flour, like doughnuts, pastries, pies, cakes and cookies.   100% whole grain breads are barely noticeable.  Nutritional implications: low fiber, low levels of minerals and vitamins found exclusively in whole grains.

9. Chips and snacks: The variety of ready-to-eat snack foods is growing, but when you get right down to it, they’re still just processed salty junk food.  The brands made with vegetables or other supposedly healthier ingredients can be high fat, and certainly aren’t low calorie.  Nutritional implications: these products make it really easy to gorge on excess calories.

8. Produce, with a growing presence of pre-cut and pre-washed: Grocery managers are figuring out that convenience is key for consumers, so the growth of ready-to-eat product is welcome.  Nutritional implications: lots more options for ready-to-eat vegetables and fresh fruit, full of fiber, vitamins and minerals, and high water content so they fill you up with fewer calories.

7. Processed lunch meats, hot dogs, sausages and bacon: Nutritional implications: fat, salt.

6. Shelf-stable convenience food: Just add water and microwave most of these items, from mac and cheese to soup cups to pad thai noodle bowls.  Nutritional implications: varies, but these products depend on quick-cooking noodles or rice, and won’t include any fresh vegetables.  Calories, low fiber, maybe high sodium

5. Bars: Honestly this category is threatening to take over the store.  Mostly they’re just candy with a Health Halo, although there are a few exceptions.  Nutritional Implications: if you think a bar substitutes for a meal, think again.  Calories, maybe protein, sugars and sweeteners.  Vitamins, minerals and fiber typically added, so many bars are like a chewy vitamin pill.

4. Ice cream and frozen desserts: The choices have exploded, but really, these are desserts, not something to eat very often.  Nutritional implications: calories, fat, sugar.  Even the low calorie versions are still treats, not a dietary mainstay.

3. Frozen meals: Family sized or individual sized.  I expect this category to grow exponentially as people cook less and less.  Nutritional implications are all over the map.  Meals with plenty of vegetables included can be a good option, as are calorie-controlled single portions.  A constant diet of frozen pepperoni pizza not so much.  Relying on frozen food means you aren’t getting anything in the way of fresh produce.

2. Yogurt: Who could have predicted yogurt would take over the grocery store, when it was a hard-to-find niche product, eaten only to health food types, 50 years ago.  Brands and flavors options seem endless.  Nutritional implications: protein, calcium, probiotics in most of the brands, convenience. 

the most dominant product in the grocery store, and our biggest source of sugar

the most dominant product in the grocery store, and our biggest source of sugar

1. Soft drinks/sports drinks: I was going to put this at #2, but it’s obvious from sheer product mass that the soft drink category is the chart topper.  In my local store alone, 2 entire aisles are taken over with soda pop, fruit-flavored drinks, sports drinks and other variations on the theme.  We get most of our added sugar calories from soft drinks and sports drinks.  Those are calories no one needs.  Nutritional implications: empty excess calories from added sugar make it easy to gain weight and hard to lose.

Just as with the Billboard Hot 100, the charts are dominated by popular products, not necessarily quality products.  Empty calories dominate the Grocery Store chart: chips, snacks, frozen desserts and soft drinks. 

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