Thursday, November 20, 2008

Toward a Theory of Grocery Bagging

My friend and fellow blogger J recently posted about the perils of overweight grocery bags. As the primary grocery shopper for my family I have a fair amount of experience in this area, and I certainly sympathize with J's plight. Also, as we approach what is probably one of the heaviest (by shopper volume and grocery haul weight) food shopping weekends of the year, I will continue this blog's tradition of public service* by bloviating further on the subject.

The problem J faces may be nothing more than a difference in bagging philosophy between her and the Stop & Shop. Assuming for the moment that heavier items are sturdier, it makes a certain amount of sense to group them together to prevent damage to the lighter/more delicate items, and it is possible that store employees have been instructed to bag to divide, rather than bag to achieve uniform weight across bags. However, since I originally formulated that theory it has come to my attention that the employees of her local Stop & Shop, regardless of corporate bagging philosophy, are dummies. On the other hand, since I spent a fair amount of time pondering the issue and coming up with that, I am going to stick with it.

During the time that my former primary grocery store (to which I shall return this weekend for rutabagas and pumpkin pie components) let shoppers bag their own groceries at checkout, I would bag-to-divide to protect the lighter items, not just within the individual bags but also once they were loaded into the back of the car. Heavy bags on the bottom, light bags on the top. Further, the absolute heaviest bags went on the leftmost side of the car to keep them relatively in place during the sharp, tilted right turn required to leave the shopping center for the trip home. (I learned that trick after only one trip.)

Since the "heavy on bottom/light on top" approach is appropriate for the post-checkout cart loading as well, I have made a habit, even after the end of self-bagging, of placing as many heavy items on the conveyor belt first, followed by the rest of the groceries in descending order of weight and ascending order of fragility. Not surprisingly, adherence to this pattern relates inversely to Bryan's mood at checkout time. However, I have noticed that the checkout people do not always follow my organizational plan and may even be attempting to achieve even weight across bags. Just wait until I show up with the rutabagas - that will throw them off.

Well, what else do you expect me to do at checkout since the demise of the Weekly World News?

*no links available, inexplicably


J. said...

I just remembered what was playing at Stop & Shop the day I wrote my bagging post, it was Gwen Stefani's "Cool." No Muzak for my Stop & Shop. (Btw, I purposely did not mention the location of this particular S&S in fear of the baggers rising up and attacking me -- pelting me with tomatoes? -- next time I shopped there.)

Thanks for the links and the mentions. While I do not entirely disagree with your bagging theory, I think it is possible to evenly distribute weight AND protect fruits, vegetables, chips and other fragile items. And I look forward to grocery shopping with you next time I visit the Commonwealth and testing out/comparing our theories. Regardless, YOU will be the one holding the bag(s).

EMM said...

I sit here, store flyers and coupons in hand, ready to make my list. I will make my trek to the meccas of Safeway and Giant later this afternoon. I'm even a little giddy about it because:

b) This will be one of those re-stocking trips for my tiny abode and I LOVE GROCERY SHOPPING!!!
c) The fact that it is really cold adds an element of being prepared for a long winter (hey, we remember the crazy blizzards of the 70's where people were stuck for weeks contemplaing which family members to eat first!)

Dave, I too set my groceries on the belt in your order. I'm OK with one set of bags being heavier. Like J, I'm annoyed by the practice of filling a bag "just because" with no rhyme or reason.

Happy Shopping!

Anonymous said...

My mother taught me to place the items in the order I wanted them bagged. My peeve is that my Stop and Shop baggers (1) think that one gallon of milk alone in a plastic bag is all that I can lift (I know the bag can handle the weight, so it's got to be their assumption), and (2) that a dozen eggs must go in a bag all by itself so as not to break the eggs, when clearly the bag of chips is not going to do it any harm, as won't one measly pound of cheddar cheese. I like bringing my own bags to the store now, which are mesh cloth that stretches with the weight of the groceries, and showing these kids how it's (environmentally) done.


J. said...

I feel (and have experienced) your frustration, MLR -- and applaud your environmentalism.

EMM said...

Safeway vs. Giant. Safeway won on the bagging experience. Cashiers at Giant now let everything go down a second conveyor where a bagger should be. The cashier has to stop mid order to bag and by then the items are all over the place. With the belt, it is difficult to reach the cart. Soooo, after watching one abysmal round, I bagged my own stuff (very nicely I must say!). I'll be better prepared for next time.

At least I'm learning a new job skill in case the hotel thing does not work out.

I'm all set now for the carnivore dressing and 15 lbs. of mashed potatoes I've been assigned to bring to Thanksgiving (someone else is in charge of the Rutabagas!!!).

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I used to bag groceries back in the day (at the Pershing's Market on Richmond Highway near Fort Belvoir; don't look for it, it's not there anymore), and consider myself quite good at it. I make a game out of it - it's sort of like tetris, with the weight/fragility issues all coming into play.

I, too, am conscious of item placement on the conveyor, although I confess I've never worried about placement in the car. Since we now bring our own bags, I can warn off the cashier and just bag my own - both the cashier and I are happier that way :)

And btw, from my time bagging, I will tell you that tomorrow is the busiest grocery shopping day of the year. Even if you're just getting rutabagas and pumpkin pie components :D


Dave S. said...

Today's expedition to Shopper's Food Warehouse went very well - rutabagas and pumpkin pie components are accounted for, as well as everything else we needed. The cashier appeared to be bagging for equivalent weight but we needed a lot of the basics so everything was heavy.

I do not mind the profligacy of baggers using multiple plastic bags for gallons of milk as we depend on those bags to be good dogwalking citizens. In that respect Harris Teeter seems to have both Safeway and SFW beat in terms of fewer bags with holes in the bottom. When the time of year finds us walking Gracie in darkness, bag integrity is a plus.

J. said...

That is an excellent, point. We too rely on a certain amount of plastic baggery to line our wastepaper baskets and clean up after the cats, which is why sometimes we leave our canvas bags at home. And there are few things more irritating on those days than getting home to find your plastic bags have holes.

So you having Thanksgiving at home this year?

Dave S. said...

All of the masthead apart from JCF* are participating in Orphans' Thanksgiving this year. Yet another advantage of moving out to Arlington is that this year's venue, down the road from the JJVs, is only ten minutes from our house.

*I believe CRH is joining us but am not sure.

EMM said...

CRH is in...we'll have 30 ppl. Excellent football is expected!

I just talked with our hostess regarding preparations. There will be a kids table, but no "blogger" table.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

J. said...

Had I only known! (Not that we were issued an invitation. Sniff.)

Your punishment shall be the Buffalo Bills being last in the AFC East. Oh wait... ; )

Anonymous said...

Well, I hate to strike a "Hints From Heloise" chord, but the door is open. If you want to go plastic-free at the grocery store, I've found that the plastic sleeves that Washington Post comes in are generally in good enough shape for pet responsibilities. Plus, given the quality of their election coverage, you're really just replacing like with like. The only drawback is that they're often clear plastic, so you're putting your first-impression factor at some risk.


Dave S. said...

All chords (with, so far, two exceptions) may be struck here without fear of reprisal.

The newspaper-bag idea is worthy of Heloise but our dog requires at least two bags per day (one AM walk, one PM walk, both with BM - ha ha) so they could not be relied upon fully. There is also the problem of all of that newspaper; even with recycling it would be a waste for us.

I have no problem with the first-impression factor. If I see someone walking a dog while carrying a knotted plastic bag with lumpy contents my first thought will not be "I wonder if they'll share those cookies with me?"

Like you I am appalled that the Post failed to run the "Fraud at the Polls!" headline on Nov. 5.