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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Big changes in the grocery business

A typical Safeway store of the 1960s and 70s

From 1969 to 1989 I was in sales and called on grocery and drug accounts at the retail and headquarters level. Although retired 20 years from that business, I still like to grocery shop and cruise the aisles to see how many changes have taken place since I hung up my selling shoes in 1989. Like most businesses, the changes have been vast, both in the product choices and the technology by which the modern grocery store operates.

The cost of a trip to the grocery store has increased tremendously. In 1967, when Barb and I did our first grocery shopping trip as a married couple, we paid $54.35 for three full carts of groceries. I still have the receipt. Today, we pay that much to pick up a few items on the way home.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, cigarettes were a big deal in supermarkets. End displays of cartons were typical as were a rack for single packs at each check stand. Today, at $50-$60 per carton, cigs are locked up tight behind the service desk. Water sections have been expanded to where there is about as much water as soda pop. There used to be only one water stocked and it was used for steam irons. The beer section used to be 6 packs only, now you can get a 30 pack. Detergents were all powders and sold in boxes, today they are liquids. Margarine used to come in sticks, now it is all in tubs. Frozen juice is a thing of the past and it’s hard to find white bread today with all the grain varieties. Shredded cheese was non-existent, now it has an entire section.

One of the biggest changes is in produce which has about everything you would ever want all year round. No more strawberries for only a few weeks in the spring, soft fruit in the summer, and apples in the fall. You can get those items all the time now.

Remember when you took "empties" back to the store to collect the deposit? Remember when you paid cash or had a check approval card? How about when all the products were stamped with the price? No UPC codes in those days. Today, I charge everything.

I shop at a modern Safeway, and since Safeway was a primary account of mine for many years, I marvel at the difference between their stores today and in the past. In the 60s and 70s the stores were about half the size as now and the perimeter departments like delis, flowers, and bakeries were either tiny or non-existent. Their stores have come a long way in Phoenix since 1960, both in product mix, store size, and technology but I still kind of miss the "clang" of those old mechanical cash registers and the dresses the cashiers used to wear.

These are a couple of examples of early Safeway stores I used to call on in the 60s and 70s. They are a lot different from the large, modern stores of today in design and product mix.

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