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A woman shopping for gulten free products in a granola bar section of a grocery store

MasterChef Contestant Ashley Mincey Discusses What Makes a Great Grocery Shopping Experience

Ashley Mincey, Personal Grocery Shopper and MasterChef Contestant Mentored by Chef Gordon Ramsay discusses grocery shopping trends with kostklip®.

Recently, kostklip® sat down with Ashley Mincey to discuss what it's like to be a personal grocery shopper; the pros, the cons, and what it's like to grocery shop in the MasterChef pantry. Read below to hear what makes an enjoyable in-store grocery shopping experience, from a professional grocery shopper.


Hi Ashley! As kostklip® has always been a huge fan of MasterChef on FOX, we were super excited to find out that there was a personal grocery shopper being mentored by Chef Gordon Ramsay as one of the shows contestants this year. Kostklip® has always strived to assist grocery stores with creating stress-free grocery shopping experiences for their customer, so we’re curious to hear from you about what creates an enjoyable grocery shopping experience.

First off, can you tell us what steered you in the direction of becoming a personal grocery shopper?

Sure! I definitely have to start by saying thank you for having me and I can’t wait to jump in! Being a professional grocery shopper is a dream position for me, and I didn’t even know it existed until 2017. For the last 3-4 years, I used cooking as a form of therapy while I was a full-time teacher. So, I frequented the grocery store 3-4x a week. Long night “out-of-classroom” hours were strenuous and before going home to dive into my work the grocery store and planning what I was going to cook were my havens. My history with grocery shopping actually started in high school though. I was a competitive tennis player, so reading food labels and picking out the best option was super imperative. I’ve enjoyed it since then. Fast-forward a few years, I used to cook all the time for my friends in grad school and would find myself in different stores 2-3 times a week. When I decided to leave teaching, I was elated to find out that grocery shopping is indeed a profession. I interviewed, and got the position.

What are some of your favorite things about grocery shopping? What keeps you in-store?

I’m enthused by all the options, the different packaging, the layout of it all- everything! I’ve learned so much about food from being in there for so long. I love being able to talk to the butchers about different cuts of meat and ways to prepare them. I feel like grocery shopping, especially as a profession is a game of strategy. I’m very meticulous when it comes to using my knowledge to get the best item for my client or to offer them the best substitutions, so even that sense of achievement is truly enjoyable. I also love watching the seasonal produce change throughout the year and seeing what’s local to the area I’m in as I grocery shop. How you organize items in your cart is another form of strategy, and I enjoy that as well. We have to think too, there once was a time where you had to individually go to the local butcher, the fish market, the produce stand, or had a milkman, and then go to the local market or convenient store for house supplies. The fact that we have this building, which houses all of that under one roof is something I appreciate.


Do you feel like your profession gave you any advantages in the MasterChef competition? Was there any crossover that you noticed?

Oh my goodness! Being a professional grocery shopper helped so much, it took me no time to mentally know the layout of that gorgeous pantry. Where as most people already don’t like shopping for themselves, I didn’t have to worry about getting frazzled or waste time making laps trying to figure out where items were. I would say the hardest part about being in there was making sure the ingredients and spices you had reflected all the components of the dish you planned on making because you only get one chance to shop. I can probably still draw out where items were! Another advantage I believe was being able to speak to the judges, especially my mentor, Chef Ramsay, about my food decisions with some conviction. I wanted to make sure he knew that I could represent him well and impress him as a 28-year old with hefty, self-taught food knowledge.

Do you ever do any grocery shopping online? What products do you commonly buy online?

No online shopping for clients- all in-store. I have personally tried out an online grocery shopping membership, and quite enjoyed it. It was faster because I didn’t take time allowing myself to be distracted by new items or irrelevant aisles. The search box was great for that, and the delivery setup was outstanding. It won’t become anything habitual though, just when I’m truly pressed for time. There aren’t any common items because I haven’t used it enough. I will say there was a time when I needed about 7 organic, free-range chickens at once, and was able to secure that purchase online. That was fabulous!

Are there any common trends that you see with the consumers you are shopping for?

I love this question because I’ve really been diving into grocery stores since high school. Wow, trends. In general, a multi-faceted trend I’ve witnessed over the last 5 years is this steady urgency for items that are a mix of local, USDA organic approved, hormone free, 0 trans-fat, free range, wild caught, that have minimal ingredients, free trade, and maybe surprisingly those with real sugar. Coconut oil and apple cider vinegar started flying off the shelves I feel like 2-3 years ago. I’ve seen a growth in requests for artisanal breakfast items from coffee to pancake mixes to frozen waffles.There’s this reoccurring theme of reassuring the customer that their food is made in-house or made with high quality ingredients, in addition to the influx of vegetarian options. I could go on and on about the trends I’ve seen. I would say these truly stand out. It’s also important to know these trends happen because of the growth of society’s knowledge and their hunger to believe they’re making an informed decision.


Do you find that grocery stores do a great job promoting those trends/nutritional/lifestyle products with in-store merchandising and marketing?

I believe that shelftalkers are the wave; that’s a huge pop culture type of compliment! As I mentioned before, we as a society have this growing desire for and growing access to information. Thus, we want to feel as though we have the necessary tools to live up to the latest trends, news, and research now more than ever about our health in particular. Grocery stores with ShelfTalkers™ aid shoppers in eliminating the guessing element. I get asked questions all the time when I’m shopping because shoppers are afraid of picking up the wrong thing, and they want help. Luckily, I can help them, but what happens when I’m not there. They should have a way to know immediately that an item is going to fit into their “keto” or “vegan” diet, for example, without frustration. It’s imperative, and grocery stores have to ride that wave because the market is speaking and demanding it. The more ShelfTalkers™ I feel equate to the better the impression left in clients, and the higher the chances for that client or for me as the one shopping to return to that store.

We are creatures of habit, convenience, and images. ShelfTalkers™ allow shoppers and professional grocery shoppers to have that mental stamp to think I can go to this store and find all the organic items I need, as an example. You know, I think all of this branding/marketing aspect, sure, is a mix of psychology, sociology and anthropology. When we narrow it down, we react based on stimuli, and ShelfTalkers™ allow for our minds to be stimulated at first glance, to make connections with trends we want to try out, and in the long run, to recall which store will make our shopping experience easier.


Tell us about some of your grocery store pet peeves.

Where to begin… I dislike when items in the produce section aren’t where they are supposed to be or the organic gets mixed in with the conventional produce items. I always double check the produce code anyway, but for everyday shoppers who don’t know to do that or how to do it, it can taint their overall experience when they are done and then find out they’re paying for the wrong item.

I hate when product stickers aren't even there on the shelves because they've fallen on the floor or haven't been updated. Now, I'm spending extra precious time trying to find the correct Frozen Buckwheat waffles or Mild curry blend.


Was there anything you wish the MasterChef pantry had more of?

It truly is fantastic in there! Being from Opa-Locka, FL (a neighborhood in Miami) I’m used to a lot of Caribbean produce and ingredients, and I would say I was pleased with the selection they did have. Because it was so vast, and the ingredients represented different areas around the world, I will say I used those differences to help propel me to go out of my comfort zone. I also wanted to connect with my mentor, Chef Gordon Ramsay, on that global level because he has restaurants everywhere! If there is anything, I personally love mussels, so I wish I saw those in there. I saw them only one time, but they just might be too easy to cook to be in the MasterChef pantry.

What could grocery stores do to make a more enjoyable experience for you?

Never run out of sanitizing hand wipes is a start! I feel as though whenever I’ve ever had a bad experience it’s based on customer service or staff member in the store unfortunately having a lack of knowledge. I would say keep having informational staff meetings and trainings to help the staff and the new employees improve. For the general shopper, they need the ease of being able to find what they’re looking for because the grocery store can be overwhelming with options. So really make sure pristine organization and labels are budgeted into their standard and their organization’s improvement plan. Not all products can afford to be aisle caps and catch a shopper’s eye first, so always keep in mind how as a store can leave that long-lasting positive impression.

Thanks Ashley! We look forward to watching your journey on MasterChef!

Stay connected with Ashley, and follow along with her MasterChef Season 9 journey.

MasterChef airs Wednesdays at 8pm EST on FOX.


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