Save on your grocery shop


There’s a feeling of ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ when I chat to shopper behaviouralist Ken Hughes. What’s a shopper behaviouralist? “Well,” he says, “I work for some of the biggest retailers and brands in the world, looking at how shoppers buy, what they buy. I’m the evil guy that’s made you buy stuff you don’t want. I would help design stores and brands and packaging with an [idea] to make you buy it.”

I’m chatting to him as part of new campaign by SuperValu that wants to help consumers save more with special promotional offers and price drops in store.

The reason they’ve hired Ken to help spread the word? “The same tricks we use to make you buy can very easily be unpicked to make you have more control over your shopping.”

Ken says that grocery shopping, in contrast to shopping for clothes or treats, has it’s own very specific challenges.

“When you are going clothes shopping you’re in a psychologically whole different space. You’re in an indulgence space, you’re in a treat space, you’re open to all sorts of influence. Generally, grocery shopping is a thing that has to be done, you kind of want to get in and out as fast as you can. Because you get in and out that’s my ideal scenario, because you’re kind of blind to everything.”

He says, “Humans, by our very nature, we don’t like to make decisions. And that’s why we end up buying the same things every week, we end up doing the same thing every week, walking up and down the aisles throwing the same things into the trolley… People come in and they walk up and down the aisles and they use the aisles as their trigger points. That’s my dream because once you don’t have a plan the ability to impulse buy is where retailers make their money… That moment where we can get you to put something into the basket or trolley that you don’t need is where we make money.”

Ken believes that by utilising some very simple rules you can save from 30 to 40 per cent off your weekly shop. Right, where do we sign up?

First off, he says that, rather like a shopping A Team, you need to go in with a plan.

“Have a plan before you arrive at a store, a physical list, plan your dinners and lunches for the week in advance of arriving to the store… You look at your presses, your fridge, your freezer before you go, that’s a classic mistake people make, not checking what they already have in their homes before they go shopping. Then you fill in the blanks. Plan, decide what you’re going to cook, use the offers that are available that week to inspire you in terms of recipes, maybe even roll over some of those dinners for tomorrow’s lunch.”

He says that not only is this vital to save money but also to cut down on the amount of food waste that we produce as a country, good for your purse and the environment too.


His second tip is to stick to a budget, and not the kind of budget where an extra 20 quid is no big deal.  

“The reality is people all estimate what they spend [on groceries], they don’t work to a budget. In other areas of our life we don’t do that. One of the tricks to make sure you hit that budget is to not pay with credit cards or debit cards. If you leave the plastic at home, physically leave it at home, and bring cash to the supermarket. Then surprise, surprise, you can only spend what you actually have. In the end, if you want to set a really hard budget, bring say €150 with you, shop and in the beginning you won’t hit it. You’ll have that sheepish moment where you have to put something back, and that’ll happen you once and never again!”

His third tip is that, where possible, you should shop in one store, something that surprised us.

“People tell you to shop around to get the best value. That might work for car insurance or utility bills, but actually for groceries, the more times you walk into a store you’re exposing yourself more to the potential for temptation.”

Basket versus trolley is an interesting area that also leaves you open to suggestion.

“If you shop with baskets all the time, what you’re doing is doing it bit by bit, piecemeal all the time. And again you’re exposing yourself to temptation. That adds up over the week. If you take one store, do a trolley shop in that one store, full trolley shop for the entire week and you’ve made a good plan, I’m only getting you once a week to tempt you.”

The temptation to pick up ‘too good to pass’ buy one get one free offers is something many shoppers fall foul of, beware says Ken.

“Sometimes people get so excited at the offer they buy things that they don’t need in the first place and then that’s not value. You’re just wasting money. For instance, if it’s a non-perishable item, a buy one get one free on toilet roll, that’s great. Because you’re not going to use more toilet roll because you’ve bought more. That works for you. Whereas, if you do that on chocolate biscuits or snacks or crisps, what do think is going to happen? You’re going to take the two packets home, but once the first packet is gone the second packet goes too. You actually haven’t saved anything.”

We’ve all heard that it’s bad to go food shopping when we’re hungry, but Ken says that advice expands to any time you might be emotionally unstable.

“Hunger is one of the obvious ones… there’s lot of others, having your kids a with you is a great example, after work, if you’re under time pressure you’re unstable, if it’s after work and you just want to get home you make quick decision. Anything that makes you a bit narky.”

Own brand items are one way to save on absolute essentials and he says that, despite a reticence for Irish shoppers to pick these up, you will absolutely benefit from doing so.

“Own brand is one of the easiest ways to save money. It’s changed a lot, the quality of own brand these days is amazing. SuperValu some of their own brand stuff is actually better than the brands. And yet the pricing is so different. The savings are huge. Some of the stuff is easy switching, [or] sometimes the own brand stuff you wouldn’t think of switching, like tea or whatever their tea has won an awards, you wouldn’t know the difference.”

And what if (like us) you really can’t help chucking stuff into the trolley?

“There are some people who are always impulsive, no matter what tips I give them. They can’t control themselves. For those kind of people online is a fantastic route. When you go online… My enemy is online, how can I influence people who are not in the store? You have a budget you can see rolling on the screen. There’s no way you can overspend if you can see a budget on the screen.”

SuperValu has announced its new lower prices campaign which sees a price drop across hundreds of super quality own brand products, on top of the thousands of already low cost own brand products and promotional offers. All you need to do is look out for the green and yellow stickers in store and save, save, save.

For more information download the real rewards app, go to and check

Catherine Devane