Today Marks 75th Anniversary of the Supermarket, Bar Code Among Key Innovations

Created during the Great Depression, the supermarket first delivered self- service and low prices, then boundless variety, healthy fresh foods, one-stop shopping, convenient prepared foods, and now gourmet, ethnic and organic offerings. Today the supermarket endures as a concept more than a single format. Whether consumers are shopping at a conventional supermarket, combination food-pharmacy store, a supercenter or a warehouse outlet, the business model remains the same: affordable prices, vast variety, abundant fresh foods and convenience.

The first supermarket was a King Kullen store that opened August 4, 1930 in Jamaica, NY. The King Kullen store, comparable to today's no-frills warehouse outlets, served as the catalyst for a new age in food retailing, selling more than one thousand products. Other companies pioneering the supermarket concept in 1930 were Ralphs Grocery Company in California, Piggly Wiggly in Tennessee, and the Texas-based Weingarten's Big Food Markets and Henke & Pillot, which was purchased by The Kroger Co. in 1956.

Key to the early success of the supermarket were the shopping cart, introduced in 1937, the automobile, free parking lots and mechanical refrigerators in the home and store.

Among its contributions over the past 75 years, the supermarket:

  • Has decreased the cost of food to nearly 6 percent of disposable U.S. family income—the lowest of any country in the world—and down from 21 percent in 1930 and 50 percent in the 19th century.
  • Provides consumers with ever-increasing variety. The corner grocery store of the 1920s carried about 700 items, most sold in bulk, and consumers had to shop elsewhere for meat, produce, baked goods, dairy products and other items. The supermarket brought all these products under one roof. The number of products carried climbed to 6,000 by 1960 to 14,000 by 1980 and to more than 30,000 today.
  • Delivers one-stop convenience. Even the first stores featured health and beauty care items, electrical supplies, auto accessories and lunch counters. Today the offerings include prescription drugs, flowers, magazines, greeting cards, photo developing, banking and other services, along with a growing assortment of ready-to-eat and -heat foods.
  • Helps pioneer technologies to improve efficiency and customer service, most notably the bar code—now scanned more than 5 billion times a day worldwide. Recent innovations such as self-scanning, online ordering, radio frequency identification, biometric payment systems and computerized shopping carts are enhancing the shopping experience from the home to the aisles to the checkout.

Source: Food Marketing Institute

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