Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Do you have moments of shopping madness?

Have you ever bought something and wondered why? Ever known you are about to pay far too much for something and not cared? Found yourself reaching up to take something off the supermarket shelf despite yourself, as if trapped in a waking dream?

I devote quite a large proportion of my time to understanding why consumers buy what they buy and do what they do, and a lot of the time I don’t even understand my own behaviour.

For instance, I have absolutely no idea why, this evening, I shelled out R47 for a box of breakfast cereal. Forty seven rand! (My mother, who always educated me on the importance of parsimony, would be shocked to the core.) I am wrestling still with the mystery of what drove me to do such a thing, because it is patently obvious that no breakfast cereal can possibly be worth that kind of money. Usually I examine the prices in Pick n Pay in excruciating detail, taking care to note how much everything costs per 100g, the fat content, the ratio of raisins to boring bits. Moreover, I never buy that sort of thing from Woolworths because I know it costs double.

But somehow, this evening, things were different. Oh, I have my excuses. It wasn’t planned. Honest. I’d stopped off at my local shopping centre on the way home because I wanted to pick up some Berocca from Clicks because I’ve been working late and need the vitamins. (Has to be Clicks because I have a Clicks Clubcard and want the points, you see.) Because the Clicks in this shopping centre happens to be situated right next to Woolworths, it always makes sense to stop off there too. After picking up the Berocca, a microwavable all night SuperBottleTM to survive the current cold, and a month’s supply of Slim Slabs on a buy 3 pay for 2 offer, I stepped into Woolies with the sole intention of picking up more strawberry squash, which is preservative free and not available anywhere else.

And then it happened. On my way to the juice aisle, I passed the muesli section. Innocently, I glanced at what was on offer. Big mistake. Immediately, I was struck by how many interesting new varieties there were. Apple and Cinnamon! Low GI Wild Berry! Citrus and Spice! Organic Flax and Pumpkin Seed! How could I continue to live in ignorance of these taste sensations? How could I possibly resist?

In the face of this onslaught, rational thought was not possible. Making a selection was a challenge, but in the end, there was only one possible choice: the organic quinoa and chocolate cereal.
“An exotic blend of organic grains, quinoa and indulgent chocolate drops, carefully crafted using traditional methods,” explains the Woolworths shopping website. “Each batch of cereal is carefully crafted according to time-honoured methods of small production batches and authentic recipes, to ensure that only the greatest attention is given to each and every box.”

I challenge anyone to resist a marketing spiel like that.

Ironically, my desire to experience quinoa was triggered by a delicious-looking recipe for butternut stuffed with this rather obscure South American grain in Pick n Pay’s Fresh Living magazine. Coincidentally, I had also long harboured an interest in this member of the goosefoot family* thanks to my research into the history of the domestication of food crops for a long-neglected novel about a botanist.

So in a sense, the events that led to such a ridiculous purchase were set in motion years ago. In so many ways, I had no choice at all. I was destined to buy that cereal. (I am not sure if I was also destined to buy the bottle of gluhwein, the box of custard, the brandy pudding and four boxes of noodles and sauce I ended up piling into my boot, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.)

After announcing my purchase on Facebook, as one does, I triggered a spirited argument about the immorality of importing food from distant lands and creating enormous carbon footprints. Still, one of my friends thoughtfully reassured me that organic quinoa and chocolate cereal is lovely stuff, and much better value than more conventional cereals.

I can’t wait to try it in the morning. Maybe it will be worth it after all.

* Quinoa is in fact a pseudocereal, as it is not a true grass. Now you know.