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Grocery Shopping Cohorts
How to make friends while pushing a metal cart through a food store
Editor note: This one is weird for SKP. It’s something I wrote a while back after coming home from Winco. Maybe every other Friday I’ll publish culture content like this. Or cool shit other people want to write? I don’t know. I’m making all of this up as I go along :)
When you pull your shopping cart from the row and push your way into the grocery store, you immediately become part of a group - a cohort of similarly-motivated people all needing to put another grocery trip in the books.
The characteristics of your trip cohort will vary. And the composition of your cohort will evolve over the duration of your grocery trip. And I swear-to-god paying attention to this phenomenon can not only make grocery shopping bearable, but sometimes a little fun?
One thing we have to agree on first. Grocery stores are highly engineered spaces designed to elicit specific human behaviors. If that makes sense, or you already knew this, great. If you want to learn more about this, there’s a guy who calls himself THE FUCKING GROCERY STORE GUY (emphasis/expletive mine) and he seems to credibly interpret why grocery stores are the way they are.
That means :
you are moving through the grocery store in sort of a loosely arranged group of people;
WHILE being basically experimented on by grocery store nerds.
You basically have a front row seat to a social experiment being carried out on a somewhat randomized group of your peers AND if you’re lucky you might see it from start to finish.
Here’s how you to know who’s in your cohort
It’s simple. When you make your first stop in the produce section, look up and notice who is parked in the same section as you. Produce is almost always the first stop in any grocery store, and produce is usually a much more open format - low display cases allow you to see across the entire section. And by noting only those who are parked and shopping in produce, you find your core cohort while ignoring those who might be passing through for other reasons.
This group will vary in size based on how busy the grocery store is - busier stores or times of day will create larger more chaotic cohorts, quieter stores or times will create smaller, more cohesive cohorts.
Your Grocery Cohort & You
As you move from the produce section of the store, you’re likely heading into a meats & dairy section or a bakery section. Again, this is by design. But this is the first opportunity for your cohort to change. Some of your produce friends will zip through the meats section without pause. Others will wander into the bakery section and end up jockeying for position at the deli counter.
And a sane few will still be with you as you leave the meat, dairy or bakery behind to wander into a place I like to call…regular-ass aisles? I don’t know. Go see what the Grocery Store Guy calls ‘em. I’m not the expert. I’m just some schmuck on the Internet yammering about grocery shopping.
Rogue Shoppers and Chaos Agents
The regular-ass aisles (or RAAaaaaa…extra a’s for max impact) are a fucking madhouse. No rules, apparently. Just pure fucking seething capitalism on small, plastic wheels. And all along these towering aisles - designed to capture 100% of your available view - there are sometimes million-dollar battles being fought for your attention. It’s not by mistake that Barilla blasts you with a wall of eye-level, blue-branded boxes in the pasta aisle. And then there’s you…and your grocery store cohort…what’s left of them, anyway.
By the time you’re past the first aisle, you’ve entered the Cohort Chaos phase - your biggest test yet as a group. Grocery store nerds want you to go up and down each aisle, snaking predictably through the grid they’ve laid out for you. But some people love to watch the world fucking burn, don’tcha know?
Here are a few characters to watch for as you attempt to maintain grocery store cohort cohesion:
Rogue Shoppers - These are folks who might LOOK like regular shoppers, but they are only there to grab a couple things and split. The dead giveaway for these folks is speed - they walk fast and typically with purpose. They usually don’t have a cart and often will use a basket, if anything. As you and your cohort graze through the store, these maniacs zig-zag and ping-pong, yeeting themselves hither and yon that crescendos with them racing through self-checkout and leaving their receipt for the next person to deal with.
Wandering Dudes - These are folks who peeled off from a different cohort to double back for something they forgot. Often they appear a bit lost and tend to shuffle around as they consult their list and scan the miles of shelves and competing products. They are polite and courteous, wishing to cause no harm or disruption to your grocery experience. Left alone, the Wandering Dude will often return to their own cohort or simply head to the checkout where they will have a genuinely warm conversation with the cashier as they bag their own groceries in a canvas sack.
Stockers - These are the folks who stock shelves, either working for the grocery store or the local distributor of a given product. They typically work with large carts that block at least 1/3 to 1/2 of the aisle. These folks aren’t doing anything wrong, of course. But they can be cohort-busters nonetheless. Statistically speaking, Stockers are the leading cause of Cohort Bumping (not as fun as it sounds). This is when a person stuck behind or near a Stocker becomes so delayed that they absorb into a trailing cohort and….well, and you never see them again. I’m sorry. It’s not anyone’s fault. Except that fucking Stocker.
Grocery Cohort Home Stretch
Congratulations! You’ve survived another grocery trip without any oxen death, dysentery or broken wagon axles! While you’re almost done, it’s likely your Grocery Store Cohort is in tatters. With all the obstacles and rogue shit you faced, you’re lucky to see one or two familiar faces as you huck your food onto the checkout belt.
But in those one or two familiar faces lies the actual, tangible results of this grocery store cohort experiment. From the now-ripened memories of trading glances in the produce section to the concise sashay around each other near the cat food - these are your people. Regardless of the lives that diverge on the other side of the squeaky, streaked, automatic doors - y’all did this grocery store tour together.
And even as your grocery store cohort fades into the gently rolling parking lot, just remember this…don’t wink at them. That’s going to freak people out.
They’re not playing grocery store cohort. They have no idea who you are. This is a game that exists only in your head.
So you’d just be some weirdo gesturing to them while they hurry to pack their car and lock the door on your creepy ass.
Anyway - please play grocery store cohort. It’s going to make your grocery shopping way more interesting. And learn more about grocery stores and how they’re messing with your head!
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