Life is complicated and making a decision is often a complex matter. We make decisions all the time and it can be a tiring process. One activity where one needs to make lots of decisions is doing food shopping. As I write this in April 2020 I am finding the decision making process is more complicated than usual due to COVID19.
What criteria is involved in making the decision? A few criteria which could have been involved prior to COVID19 are -
choosing where to shop and which products to buy based on ethical concerns
whether your household will eat a particular food item
COVID19 has added extra criteria including -
whether the place you want to shop at is still operating
availability of the goods on your shopping list
how safe you feel shopping at a particular place at this time
Ethical concerns People may avoid shopping at a particular place for ethical reasons. They may feel the store doesn't treat its workers well or they believe the profits leave the country.
When it comes to choosing which food to buy and which brand, again there may be ethical considerations. It may seem more ethical to buy the product made in one's own country but another brand may be cheaper. Sometimes a product is made in one's own country but the company is owned by an overseas business. The item may be made from a combination of local and imported ingredients. It's not simple.
Some people prefer supporting a local farmers' market so their money goes straight to local producers. They may also like getting fresher food which usually has minimal packaging.
Perhaps they can get organically grown produce. Maybe the produce tastes better. They may like interacting with the people who have grown the vegetables or made the bread and jam they are paying for.
Outdoor food market Image:Martin Winkler from Pixabay
Environmental concerns When buying a particular product a consumer may think about the environmental impact. He/she may choose fresh fruit and vegetables from a local supplier because transporting them has had less environmental impact. She/he may choose fresh over canned or frozen because there is less packaging.
A shopper may buy some food products from a health or other specialty store because they can use their own containers and avoid unnecessary packaging.
Price Many are on a limited income and want to keep their shopping bill as low as possible. Others have a higher income but are trying to save money to pay off debts or save up for a house, car or holiday.
However, the cheaper option may be a product produced overseas, be less nutritious, contain more fat or have unnecessary packaging.
Packaging Some shoppers look for items with less packaging and particularly try to avoid plastic. Others like the fact plastic is waterproof and may choose an item such as sugar in a plastic bag rather than paper.
Sometimes choosing which form of packaging to buy is a dilemma. Is it better to buy milk in a plastic bottle or go for UHT in a cardboard and foil container? Which is easier to recycle? Perhaps your household don't like UHT milk. On the other hand, perhaps you like to buy UHT milk because it can be stored in the cupboard until opened. You may choose the cheaper option.
There will be less packaging in one 800 gram box of cereal than in four 200 gram boxes. However, if there are only one or two people in the household and they don't eat cereal every day, some of it may go stale before it is consumed and then there is waste which is neither environmentally friendly nor good for the budget. Perhaps a smaller size is half price this week and it is cheaper to buy several packs of this size than one large. Can you see what I mean about decision making being complex?
Health There is much information, some of it contradictory, about food these days. It can be difficult to work out which food is best when faced with several options. Which is better for your heart? Which contains the most vitamins and minerals? What about fibre? Should you buy full fat or low fat? How much salt or sugar does that product contain? Do you need to be concerned about artificial flavours and colours? What about preservatives?
These days more people need to avoid lactose, gluten, sugar, artificial additives and so on. More foods are being produced with allergies and intolerances in mind but these tend to be more expensive.
If you need to be aware of a specific eating plan such as vegetarian, vegan, keto, paleo or FODMAP, food shopping decisions can be complex indeed.
Now there are more gluten free options available than in the past Image:Luisella Planeta Leoni from Pixabay
Will your household eat a particular food? Perhaps you have an item in your hand and it ticks most of the boxes, it's well priced, nutritious, was produced ethically (to the best of your knowledge) and has minimal packaging. The problem is your household aren't keen on it or just refuse to eat it. There isn't any point in buying anything that will end up being wasted.
Enter COVID19 As if grocery shopping wasn't already complicated enough, then COVID19 happened.
The rules being put in place to try to slow the spread of this virus change frequently. Different restrictions are in place in different locations. The way we do things has changed dramatically.
I am doing more of my shopping at the supermarket so I can get it done quickly and head home. No more catching the train to another suburb to buy cheap produce, followed by a coffee. I don't pick up items to check the nutrition facts or compare products at this time. Each trip to the supermarket is a different experience and I don't know what to expect. These changes have effected the decisions I make.
Is the place you want to shop still operating? Some farmers' markets are not happening due to social distancing restrictions. Some small businesses are finding it difficult to get supplies of particular products at this time. Therefore you may need to change where you shop, at least for some items. Even if you normally choose to buy from a farmers' market it may not be an option at this time.
Availability of specific items Numerous items are currently in short supply. Wheat flour is often sold out. Fortunately there are substitutes. This does mean you may have to buy what is available rather than the cheapest product or the brand with the least packaging.
Wheat flour is in short supply.Image:Bruno/Germany from Pixabay
Some items have restrictions on the number of packets or tins you can buy per visit to the supermarket. This means some decisions are out of your hands.
How safe you feel shopping in a particular place at this time Sometimes I catch the train and buy fruit and veggies at a farmers' market. According to Facebook the market is still operating with some modifications because of social distancing rules. I would feel safe enough shopping there but I would rather not use the train unless essential.
I feel safer getting fruit and veggies when I am at the supermarket and going home as soon as possible. Therefore my usual reasons for choosing to buy at the market are overruled by considerations about COVID19.
The last few weeks I have been buying some items from the nearby service station. I can pop in, get basics like bread, milk and eggs and get out again with minimal interaction with other people. Usually I enjoy a bit of a chat while out shopping but that's not the case at the moment. I have also been able to buy a couple of items that haven't been available at the supermarket and I haven't begrudged paying a higher price.
One could argue, in some ways the decision making process isn't more complicated at the moment. Some decisions have been taken out of our hands. For example, if you saw a pack of toilet paper sitting on a supermarket shelf and you were running low, would you refuse to buy it because it wasn't the brand you usually buy or because you considered it was overpackaged? I would just grab it. In this situation scarcity of an item may override all other considerations when making a decision.