Those $5.99 Rotisserie Chickens Come With a Side of Serious Overspending

Roast chicken with potato and mushrooms on plate
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A few months ago, I wrote about the tricks grocery stores use to get you to spend more — from the psychological to the sensory.

Then, I appeared on a local TV station to talk about those tactics. A big one: Stores capitalize on your keen sense of smell, using everything from the presence of freshly baked bread to the placement of fragrant flowers.

My father, who watches all my appearances (thanks, Dad), sent me a text message refreshingly free of context after the segment aired.

“It’s those rotisserie chickens.”

Yes, my dad has a weak spot when it comes to grocery shopping, and it is that slowly rotating selection of golden-brown chickens. And I bet a lot of you have the same weakness, too.

Rotisserie Chickens Are a Trap (but It’s Not the Chickens’ Fault)

Grocery stores started selling ready-to-eat rotisserie chickens in the 1990s, nodding to the popularity of Boston Market (then Boston Chicken) and its chicken dinner offerings of the time, The Wall Street Journal explains. And while a lot has changed since the ‘90s, grocery stores still sell piles of whole cooked chickens at well below $10 each.

With today’s intense competition to attract and retain grocery shoppers, stores are constantly experimenting with these prepared chickens, using spice varieties, price deals and supply-chain adjustments. Costco is even building its own chicken processing plant so it doesn’t have to pay suppliers.

If you want to roast a whole chicken yourself, it might cost more than the $5.99 or so that some stores charge for these chickens to gather the ingredients. Then you have to get your oven perfectly toasty for the task of cooking the bird. So grocery stores keep rotisserie chicken prices low, luring you with convenience and that roasty-toasty scent.

And then they hope you’ll buy side dishes.

Have you ever wandered into your local store after work and bought just a hot chicken? You probably picked up potato salad, macaroni or maybe a few items you just remembered you needed.

Suddenly, you’re not a $5.99 customer. Your additional purchases, especially other prepared foods with higher markups, make up for the profit the grocer lost on that priced-just-right chicken.

Buy the Chicken, but Remember This

We could sit here all day and debate whether it’s worth it to buy a pre-roasted chicken, but it comes down to the same question we ask every time we talk about going out for fast food or a leisurely sit-down dinner: Are you willing to pay for convenience?

If so, a rotisserie chicken is one of the best quick-and-easy buys out there. You can feed a small family a hearty meal, slice and dice to add chicken to your favorite recipes, or portion out leftovers to last your party of one several meals.

You don’t have to resist the powerful, mouthwatering pull of a rotisserie chicken when you go to the grocery store — as long as you reconsider the extras that try to leap into your basket before you head for the register.

Lisa Rowan is a senior writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder.