Vintage Supermarket Snapshots: Capturing Supermarket Evolution from the 1950s to the 1980s

The opening of the first King Kullen supermarket in 1930 marked a turning point in the grocery industry.

Unlike traditional stores that offered limited dry goods, King Kulen provided thousands of products to customers, all conveniently located under one roof.

It introduced new features, such as a bakery section with freshly baked bread, a meat department with skilled butchers, and a larger produce department – all accessible through a single checkout line.

Instead of focusing on fancy decorations, merchandise was simply displayed in packing cartons.

Emphasis was placed on efficiency and volume, with the sales of this one store being estimated to be equivalent to the sales of a hundred typical chain stores.

This approach allowed King Kullen to offer significantly lower prices to its customers.

As time progressed, larger chains also adopted the idea, refining it with a level of sophistication absent in the simpler stores of the early 1930s.

In the late 1930s, A&P began a strategy of consolidating many of its smaller service stores into larger supermarkets.

This involved the replacement of many small stores with one larger, more modern establishment. By 1940, despite halving its number of stores, A&P experienced significant sales growth.

The 1950s and 1960s are often seen as the heyday of supermarkets. During this time, shiny new stores opened regularly, attracting enthusiastic newspaper attention and catering to the growing population of wealthy shoppers.

The designs of these supermarkets, which had been standardized since the 1930s and 1940s, were refined and updated.

This led to the creation of iconic buildings such as A&P's colonial-themed stores, the distinctive glass arch-shaped designs of Safeway and Penn Fruit, and the towering archway signs of Food Fair and Lucky stores.

Even today, the modernist stores started by Steinberg in Ontario and Quebec, despite being rebranded as Provigo, Food Basics and Metro, continue to make an impressive mark.

In the late 1960s, changes in consumer preferences and zoning regulations led to a shift toward more bland exteriors for supermarkets.

To compensate, store interiors moved away from the white of the 1950s, adopting colorful designs inspired by New Orleans, Happy Palettes, or old farmhouses.

Other upgrades include carpeting, specialty departments and more.

The highlight of this trend was Kroger's introduction of the "superstore" prototype in 1972, which featured specialty departments and a vibrant color scheme of orange, gold, and green.

During this period, many stores across the country started offering discount programs. These programs typically include getting rid of trading stamps, reducing operating hours, and prioritizing cost-cutting measures.

Lucky Stores in California updated their existing stores, keeping the same name.

Meanwhile, others took a mixed approach, with some stores operating as normal and others, such as Colonial's Big Star stores and Harris Teeter's More Value in the Southeast, operating as discounters under different names. .

The market segmentation we see today evolved from the discounting trend that took hold in the 1980s.

During this period, the middle category of stores gradually began to decline.

Mainline stores began to lean toward more upscale offerings, while lower-end stores shifted toward a warehouse-style approach reminiscent of the supermarkets of the early 1930s.

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