Over the course of your life, food has changed dramatically. For example, think about the production and distribution of food products, the management of grocery stores, the prevalence of restaurants and fast food chains, and the way most people currently shop for ingredients and prepare meals. Some things may have stayed the same, like your mother’s famous apple pie recipe, but many others have evolved. Take grocery shopping – as the times have changed, so have your favorite supermarkets.
Grocery Shopping: Then and Now
What Shoppers Want
In decades past, most Americans purchased bulk ingredients like flour, oatmeal, yeast, and butter. These days, consumers often feel that they don’t have the time, energy, or desire to cook their own food. Instead, they seek out prepared meals. Although some shoppers still adore “TV dinners,” many are seeking out diverse prepackaged meals, like rotisserie chicken, grilled salmon, BBQ, quiche, and even sushi. Grocers offer a greater selection of these products in addition to snacks like chips, popcorn, pretzels, and candy.
However, today’s consumers are also more health conscious when it comes to nutrition. Many shoppers are willing to pay more for healthy foods (nearly 40% of shoppers agreed with this statement in 2014). Manufacturers are also more likely to add health-related claims to their packages these days to catch shoppers’ eyes: 20% Less Sodium! No Artificial Flavors! 0 Grams Trans Fat!
Modern Package Design
Although some of the bags, boxes, cartons, cans, and jars in which our groceries are sold have stayed remarkably similar through the years, others have changed dramatically. For example, did you know that the mouthwash Listerine was once served in a glass bottle that resembled perfume? Plastic containers were not as common, but glass and tin reigned supreme. For example, you could purchase oats or peanut butter in a tin. In addition, all packaged foods must now follow the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, and many companies are focusing on the recyclability of their packaging. These were not major concerns of food manufacturers in the 1940s and 1950s.
Large, All-in-One Stores
Today’s consumers love the convenience of purchasing everything they need in a single trip to the grocery store. With their low prices and diverse products, supermarkets tend to beat out small, specialty stores like local butchers and bakers. The grocery market today is quite homogenous as chain stores continually buy one another out. Although this trend began in the 1950s, it has developed through the years. Additionally, consumers are willing to drive further for the luxury of an everything-under-one-roof shopping trip. And since most Americans drive, it isn’t any trouble to bring home a large load of groceries.
Finally, of course, largely due to inflation, the prices of everyday grocery items have increased. For example, here are just some of the many bargains you could find at grocery stores in the 1950s:
- Loaf of Bread: 14 cents
- Cheese: 45 cents per pound
- Milk: 82 cents
- Butter: 74 cents
- Coffee: 37 cents per pound
However, not all food products have risen in cost at an equal rate. Eggs, for example, were about 50 cents per dozen in the 1950s. These days, they cost around $1.60. Not bad!
The Ever-Changing Grocery Store
When you think back on your days of accompanying your mother to the supermarket or grocery shopping as a young adult, what do you miss most? Did your local butcher tell you the best ways to cook your meat? Did you spend more time in the kitchen with your family? And as you consider the grocery changes that have occurred in the last several decades, what do you most appreciate about current grocery stores – the convenience, the variety, the healthy choices?
Some changes are irrefutably wonderful, while others are up for debate, but one thing is for certain: grocery shopping will never be the same as it was decades ago!
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