The Evolution of the grocery store

The Evolution of the grocery store

I remember going to the grocery store with my mom when I was a little boy, how times of changed. The evolution of the grocery store is just another example of how our economy is changing, and how important it is for people to realize that they have to learn new skills and evolve with the “new economy”.

How does all this relate to the “new economy”? Well, stick with me because although the grocery stores history may not be a super interesting topic to most people, it is a prime example of how the economy has changed in the past hundred years and what the future might look like.

Mid 1800’s

Grocery stores like pacific tea company or great Atlantic got their start in the mid-1800s along with many other small regional grocery stores. These grocery stores were very small and tended to focus on one aspect of food retail such as “dry grocery” items, where they would sell canned goods or other nonperishable items. Produce vendors and butchers were completely separate stores, but most of the stores tended to cluster together for the customer’s convenience.

Early 1900’s

grocery storePiggly Wiggly stores of Memphis were arguably the first self-service shopping in America. This was the first time in American history where the customer could actually walk into the store, take a product off-the-shelf and then go to the counter and pay.

The self-service tile store was quickly followed up by the chain store explosion that happened in the early 1920s. Small regional change such as Kroger or national tea, started to rapidly expand their service area, some such as A&P even on national scale, operating over 10,000 stores across the United States by the end of the 20s. Most of the stores still did not offer butchers or produce departments and some still offered delivery services and charge accounts, but times were changing fast and most had abandoned these practices.

1930’s – 1940’s

By the end of the 20s chain stores started to offer a small selection of meat and produce along with their growing list of dry items, but the big change was still to come.

In 1930 the first supermarket was introduced in New York City, it had tons of free parking and additional concessions in an almost bazaar-like setting. This was the first time in history or products were sold out of packing cartons and the atmosphere was more of a warehouse store. The focus of the supermarket was definitely on volume and they projected to do about the same amount of business as 100 conventional chain stores. With the large volume and less concern for decor, the prices were much lower.

This new approach to retailing groceries became an instant phenomenon and by 1940 pretty much all the chains and major players in the grocery industry had switched over to this business model.

1950’s – 1960’s

grocery storeBy1950 the change from being a chain grocery store to a supermarket was pretty much complete, and this was considered the golden age of the supermarket, with new and exciting stores opening on a regular basis. Designs were modernizing but for the most part superstores remain the same throughout this era. 


The economy in the 1970s started to shift and people were looking to save money so the introduction of the discounting stores exploded. The focus of discounting stores was the illumination of trading stamps, reducing the amount of operating hours, and major cost cutting efforts. The success of the stores revolved around volume and distribution, many stores were not able to achieve this and went out of business.

1980’s – 1990’s

grocery storeDuring the 1980s and 1990s, warehousing and mergers were the two big changes to grocery stores of this era. We also saw the emergence of superstores where general merchandise and groceries were all sold under the same roof. This is when stores like Walmart and Kmart really started to take off. 

In the early 1990s, the other big trend was mergers and leveraged. Major chains such as A&P were affected by these buyouts. Safeway decided to go back to the private sector to avoid a hostile takeover, in doing so if lost half of its geographical reach.

2000 – 2015

walmart grocery storeDuring the early 2000’s to current most of the grocery trade revolves around a big box retail stores and large discounters, much of the industry remains the same as it did in the mid to late 1990s, but once again major change is just around the corner.

Today – Future

Once again major changes upon us as technology advances, technology did play a major role in the changing of the grocery business over the last century but in a much different way than it is affecting this industry today.

In the past technology like refrigeration, transportation, and the computer affected the way grocery stores operated, today technology such as the Internet and direct selling is changing the way we shop. 

amazon grocery storeIn the early 2000 and we started to see more automated teller systems, the human teller was being replaced. Today there are automatic grocery stores that have no tellers at all and it was more like shopping from a food vending machine. You can now also log online to stores like Amazon or Shopify and purchase mostly dry grocery items directly online. Amazon has also opened the check-out free convenience store concept, only has one location today Amazon plans for rapid expansion nationwide. The supermarket stores will have a maximum of 10 human employees and most of the heavy lifting will be robotic automation and software.

automated grocery storeThis concept will reduce tens of thousands of jobs that are currently offered in the grocery market today. This is just the beginning as plans for Large warehouse, fully automated grocery distribution centers are being built. These grocery distribution centers will be 100% automated, using the Internet to place your order, robotic food pickers will place your groceries onto a pallet that will be loaded into an automated truck and delivered to your home with no human interaction. 

This will be the largest shift in food distribution and sales in the last hundred years, it will drastically affect her current economy and the employment of tens of thousands of people.

This is simply another example of how our economy is changing based on technology, protect your future learn the skills of direct selling and don’t be left waiting on employment lines applying for jobs and are rapidly disappearing.

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