The slim margins in food retailing have long inspired grocers to cut costs. In the 1970s, seeking a way to speed 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.
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 efficient transport by rail and road, the system can supply consumers with large quantities of goods at low prices.