a shelf of chocolates

Photo by David Berkowitz.

Grocery stores offer a seemingly endless number of coupons for buying discounted foods. But deals on certain types of goods are overrepresented. A CDC study of six major chain grocery stores found that the online coupons they offered favor certain foods over others:

chart, histogram

Data via CDC. Note these coupons are just from grocery stories and exclude manufactures’ coupons.

Of the 1,056 coupons collected, one-fourth of them were for processed snacks, candy, and desserts. Processed foods overall accounted for almost 40% of all coupons. Meanwhile fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed meats added up to less than 5%. Want discounts on your dried beans? Forget about it!

The authors of the study concede that fresh foods may be underrepresented because they have more volatile wholesale prices, which makes it more difficult to forecast their prices. But there’s a lot of healthy produce going to waste — the USDA estimates that supermarkets lose about $15 billion every year to unsold fruits and vegetables.

Coupons can have an influential role on what we buy. Allegedly, almost 80% of consumers regularly use coupons; in 2013, half of all internet users had redeemed one online. And a “10% off” coupon is estimated to boost purchases of that good by up to 11% in a week. 

So, coupons might be pretty effective at making you buy things that aren’t that good for you. It’s hard to resist a good deal and perhaps even harder to resist some delicious Hot Pockets.

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