FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000

The Next Supermarket Revolution

The slim margins in food retailing have long inspired grocers to cut costs.  In the 1970s, seeking a way to speed up checkout and limit mistakes, grocers led a coalition of manufacturers and retailers to develop a system of standardized product identification—the Universal Product Codes, or bar codes. The system enabled stores to track inventory and record customer buying habits. It also made possible the discount warehouse, a highly efficient model for distributing food and other goods to consumers at reduced prices.

Supermarket scanner, 1970s

Supermarket scanner, 1970s

While bar-code scanners brought efficiency to supermarket checkout lanes, some shoppers balked at not having prices marked on individual items.

Courtesy of Publix Supermarkets, Inc.

Supermarket Chefs

Supermarket Chefs

Wegmans began offering chef-prepared meals in its Corning, New York, store in 1992.  This trend has continued to grow, with most supermarkets offering an array of fresh, prepared foods for on-the-go consumers.

Courtesy of Wegmans

Membership card, 1991

Membership card, 1991

In 1983, Costco took the no-frills warehouse idea originated by Price Club in 1976 a step further by allowing anyone, not just business owners, to become a member. One devoted shopper used this membership card for twenty years.

Gift of Margaret (Peggy) Hackman and Family

Warehouse Shopping Cart, 2011

The products sold at warehouse stores reflect the workings of global, industrialized food distribution. Relying on economies of scale, from production and manufacturing to containerized shipping and intermodal transport, the system can supply consumers with large quantities of goods at low prices. Gift of Costco Wholesale, Inc.

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Stocking up at Costco, 2008

Stocking up at Costco, 2008

Courtesy of AP Images