Seventy-five years ago a change occurred in Britain that was to revolutionise forever the way we shop.
Prior to 1948 shopping could often be a long, laborious process that involved queueing at a counter, handing over a list to an assistant and waiting patiently until they collected all the items which you then paid for in cash or, if the shopkeeper trusted you, on credit.
And the reality of forties Britain was that many items were still subject to rationing so choice was limited and with items often out of sight in backroom store cupboards shoppers were unaware of everything that was available.
Then the Co-Op in Manor Park, London, took a bold step. It became open plan, allowed shoppers to pick up a basket and wander round the shelves, collecting what they wanted and pay at the end.
The age of the UK supermarket had begun and it was quite a change at first, with many customers wary of picking up items direct from the shelves for fear someone might think they were trying to steal them. The Co-op even produced a handy guide for shoppers on how to use these new stores.
Word quickly spread about how much quicker the process was, how many goods were actually available to be bought and the reduced prices. The popularity grew and the Co-op began converting more of its stores.
When the first Premier Supermarket opened a few months later it took ten times as much per week as the average British general store of the time and soon Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury’s had entered the brave new world of self service. Others soon followed.
Supermarkets continue to succeed because they react to, or sometimes lead, change in society. Prior to 1953 poultry was only reared for egg production but greater consumer affluence led to chicken and other meats becoming available for the first time – a move accelerated as more and more households bought fridges.
The birth of the package holiday in the seventies led to demand back home for a whole new range of foods such as spaghetti bolognese and curry. Ever busier lives and the advent of the family car led to big, purpose built out of town supermarkets emerging.
The nineties saw tastes expand further with SK Foods supplying a range of dishes inspired by food from around the world including Japan, China, Mexico and the Mediterranean.
Now 75 years on from that first self service store, supermarkets have adapted to the digital age by offering the option of online shopping delivered direct to your door. Effectively you draw up a list, hand it over to the store and someone goes off and collects all the items for you, which you pay for from your bank or on a credit card. Perhaps all we’ve done is gone full circle.