5 On Your Side

Supermarket headache: Consumers confounded by too many choices

Posted April 2, 2014

In 1975, the average supermarket stocked about 9,000 products. Now, it's nearly 47,000.

So many choices can make it difficult to see price disparities.

Take Cheerios, for example. There are 14 flavors to choose from, including honey nut, chocolate, multi-grain and peanut butter.

There are 15 types of Thomas' English Muffins. Buying vanilla ice cream? Breyer's has half the fat, lactose free, extra creamy, no sugar added and more.

"We found 27 versions of Crest toothpaste at one store,” said Tod Marks of Consumer reports. “The company makes more than 50. Now, according to a new Consumer Reports survey, consumers tell us they like choice, but 28 percent were overwhelmed dealing with that much information."

With so many options, consumers should watch the prices. Some versions of a product cost a lot more.

One variety of Turkey Hill Ice Cream cost less than $3, but Turkey Hill All Natural was more than twice that price.

In Consumer Reports' survey, one out of 20 people said they walked away empty-handed because, with so many choices, it was just too hard to make a decision.

"New products are considered the lifeblood of the supermarket,” Marks said. “And consider this: When one company offers two products, and another offers 10, odds are the sale's going to go to the company that offers more."

If all of the choices give you a headache, grab Advil – once you choose between caplets, tablets, film-coated tablets or liquid-gels.


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  • Ted DeBord Apr 9, 2014
    user avatar

    With so many people around the world who are starving, even in our own country, how can people complain about having too many food choices? Have we become this spoiled?

  • 68_dodge_polara Apr 7, 2014

    These people should shop at costco where they make it easy as there is no selection.

  • Thomas Fenske Apr 7, 2014
    user avatar

    The odd thing is, most of these are parallel choices of the same products. And some don't really have any difference ... like Excedrin ... lots of choices but if you look at the formulation they seem exactly the same. I agree with OutHouseCat on the olive oil. Like a lot of trendy items it has no end of variety. I buy cheap. On other stuff, I usually just stick with the tried and true. The article picture shows Triscuit? I might try one or another if they are on sale, but usually they are all on sale ... hard to beat the original.

  • outhousecat Apr 3, 2014

    It's funny that yesterday the Walmart stocker and I had this very conversation as I stood before at least 40 choices of olive oil - regular, lite, expensive, store brand, x, xx, and xxx virgin, pints, gallons and on and on. I finally took a quart of the cheapest store brand and went on. I like having a bit of a choice, but this was ridiculous. It's almost like the olive oil had it's own store within a store.

  • common tater Apr 3, 2014

    There's an easy way to choose...buy the one that's on sale or has a coupon. I don't care if I use whitening or cavity preventing toothpaste. Lots of different kinds of cereal taste great. I would think they would lose money on all the items that go out of date before being bought.