How to Organize Your Pantry Like a Merchandizer: 4 Easy Steps

Beverages organized on a grocery store shelf

When merchandizers set the shelves of a store, their goal is to create easy shopping and inspired purchasing. They want customers to look at the shelf and say “Oh! I know what I can make!” 

When you fill the shelves of your kitchen and pantry, don’t you want the same thing? To be able to tell at-a-glance what’s missing? What meals you already have the ingredients for? 

These steps will walk you through “merchandizing” your own kitchen, so you can plan, shop, and cook with ease.

Step 1: Determine Your Categories

If you think of your local grocery store, you may notice that certain items are usually grouped together. This is because, as shoppers, we’re likely to need related items and stocking them nearby will ensure we add those items to our cart. In your pantry, categorizing similar items will help you keep track of what you have, what you’re missing, and where to find that baking powder you bought last Christmas.

Here are some common categories:

  • Breakfast Foods
  • Baking Goods
  • Sweeteners
  • Snack Foods
  • Spices & Seasonings
  • Oils & Vinegars
  • Coffee & Teas
  • Pastas
  • Rice & Grains
  • Seeds & Nuts
  • Canned Vegetables
  • Peas & Beans
  • Canned Protein
  • Pickled Foods
Display of cheeses at the grocery store.

Step 2: Find Your Space

Depending on your cabinet size and shelf space, you may or may not have much flexibility about where each category goes. My husband and I live in an old Craftsman home and are blessed with a large kitchen pantry with open shelving, but I know the struggle of trying to find shelves that will fit a cereal box. Here are some things to consider when looking for space.

  • Think of the largest/tallest item you’re likely to buy in that category. Will the space be tall enough?
  • Can you stack the same items on top of each other? Canned goods usually stack well. 
  • For boxed goods, does stacking them horizontally fit the space better?
  • For bulk items like grains and nuts, you may want to store them in a sealed container. It protects against accidental bag tears and pantry pests. Bonus if your containers are stackable! 

Step 3: Group Your Categories

Next, if space allows, you’ll want to think about grouping the categories based on how they’re used or what types of foods you make. Here are some examples from my own pantry.

  • Hot and cold cereals are closest to the pantry door, since they’re used almost every day, along with cereal toppings such as hemp seed and dried fruits. 
  • Oils & Vinegars are kept with the bulk-sized herbs and spices (the ones that don’t fit in our spice cabinet) because we usually use these together. 
  • Cartons of almond milk are kept next to flour, sugar, and salt for baking, and a little further on the same shelf you’ll find semisweet chocolate and marshmallows.
  • Pastas and grains are on the shelf right below canned tomato, pasta sauce, and legumes, with potatoes, onions, and garlic hanging in a basket nearby. 

Step 4: Face Your Labels

The last thing you’ll want to do is face your labels. Make it a habit that each time you put away groceries you take second to make sure the name of the food is facing forward and is easy to see. If your shelves are deep, try alternating rows instead of using straight rows. The items in back will peek out between the items in front. Since the labels are facing forward, you won’t have to dig around or grab things off the shelf just to find out what’s behind them.

Merchandise display of herbs at the grocery store.

Now that your pantry is organized, what will you cook? 

—Written by Nina Ottman

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