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The war behind grocery store shelves

Kai Ryssdal and Adhiti Bandlamudi Dec 12, 2016
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A worker places various household items on the shelf at a supermarket in Beijing 12 September 2005. China's consumer inflation rate slowed in August, with prices rising just 1.3 percent from a year earlier compared with an increase of 1.8 percent in July, while in August last year, inflation was running at 5.3 percent year-on-year, sparking fears the economy was beginning to get out of hand.
STR/AFP/Getty Images

When you walk down your grocery store aisle to pick up a bag of chips, you probably don’t realize that, unbeknownst to you, there is a war going on behind the stocking shelves that determines how a bag of Lays is at your eye level, while another bag of off-brand chips sits at the lowest shelf. Companies have to pay “slotting fees” to retailers to get their products on certain shelves. These fees can be expensive too, which can keep smaller companies from getting their products in grocery stores at all. 

Phil Edwards, a video producer at Vox, wrote a piece called “The Hidden War Over Grocery Shelf Space“. 

On the origin of slotting fees:

Yeah, so it’s an interesting story that the slotting fees haven’t always been around. They really grew in the 1980s and that’s on of the arguments that defenders of slotting fees use. They say that in the 1980s, the number of products that manufacturers made were growing, almost exponentially. And as a result, retailers needed a way to, kind of, cull through that increased number of products. 

On how slotting fees change the way we eat: 

That’s one of the arguments that critics of slotting fees have against it. So, for example, the Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a report and their take home point was basically that manufacturers of junk food were more likely to be able to afford these slotting fees and, as a result, you were pushed to buy Fritos instead of apples or candy bars instead of bananas. So, it definitely affects how you eat, not only in the brands that you have, but possibly in the type of foods that you’re likely to see. 

Click the audio player above to hear the full interview.

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