New York City, Today marks the 75th anniversary of the supermarket.
The first supermarket opened Aug. 4, 1930 in Jamaica, N.Y. 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 1,000 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.
According the Food Marketing Institute, the supermarket helped shape American culture and history in the following ways:
• Endure The Great Depression: The supermarket emerged while America was grappling with the Great Depression. The impoverished American public welcomed the unprecedented low prices, boundless variety and the opportunity to select products directly from shelves. This innovation became an immediate success.
• Create the Middle Class: The supermarket’s low prices freed up substantial funds for families to spend on cars, homes, education and other needs and amenities of life. As supermarkets proliferated in the 1950s and 1960s, they played a pivotal role in creating the American middle class. On the supermarket’s silver anniversary, President John F. Kennedy said that the supermarket’s low-cost mass marketing techniques “… have enabled a higher standard of living and have contributed importantly to our economic growth.”
• End the Cold War: Between 1958 and 1988, some 50,000 Soviet citizens traveled to the U.S., most touring an American supermarket on their trip. The supermarket showcased the possibilities of food abundance and became a metaphor for what capitalism could do and Communism could not. In his autobiography, Boris Yeltsin gave this account of his 1989 visit to a supermarket in Houston: “When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people. That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it.”