1911… Haber’s Holy Grail: fertiliser… Fritz Haber cracks the conundrum that’s been exercising scientists for years by harvesting atmospheric nitrogen and hydrogen and turning it into ammonia to make synthetic fertilisers. Today such fertilisers sustain a third of the world’s population.
1915… Women’s Institute founded… They’ve come a long way since they were set up in 1915 to encourage wartime food production by women and foster community spirit. They’ve roasted prime ministers, got their kit off for cancer and in 2011 launched a range of jams and chutneys.
1915… Milk cartoned… The age of disposable packaging arrives when John Van Wormer patents the waxed cardboard milk carton. But Britain finds the concept harder to swallow than the US - it doesn’t truly take off here until Robert Wiesman Dairies adopts cartons in 1960.
1916… Cheese gets Krafty… Cheese’s life is lengthened when JL Kraft patents pasteurised processed cheese, allowing it to be shipped long distance. Kraft doesn’t starts slicing it until 1950 though.
1916… Piggly Wiggly… Okay, it’s a silly name. But Piggly Wiggly, opened by retail pioneer Clarence Saunders in Memphis, is the world’s first self-service grocery store. For the first time shoppers can enter a store through turnstiles, browse aisles for products and pay a cashier for the contents of their baskets before leaving. It transforms retail, increasing the need for strong product branding and packaging and helping to lower prices and increase choice. The concept transforms US retail but it’s not until 1951 that supermarkets cross the Atlantic and take off in Britain.
1928… The best thing since… No less than the “the greatest forward step in baking since bread was wrapped”. Otto Frederick Rohwedder’s newfangled bread slicer provides a benchmark for innovation and births a new idiom. It also kickstarts the spreads and preserves category.
1930… Unilever unites… Dutch margarine giant Margarine Unie merges with Lever Brothers, bringing together operations in more than 40 countries. In the same year a certain Procter & Gamble enters the UK market, beginning one of grocery’s longest running rivalries.
1931… ‘Night starvation’ invented… Ads don’t get much more audacious than this. Horlicks invents an ailment - ‘night starvation’ - and stirs in a soupçon of melodrama, claiming its malted milk drink is the only way to stave it off . It is one of the first examples of functional marketing.
1952… Mars bar launched… Forrest Mars first fashions his eponymous chocolate bar, using his father Frank’s Milky Way as a starting point. A year later Rowntree & Co launches Kit Kat. Last year Brits munched their way through £103m worth of Kit Kats and £92.6m of Mars bars.
1937… Well and truly trollied… World’s first supermarket hosts world’s first shopping trolley when Sylvan Goldman - the new owner of the Piggly Wiggly chain - bolts two baskets to a folding chair and adds wheels. It’s a runaway success and Goldman makes millions.
The Grocer's 150 defining moments: the 1860s
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The Grocer's 150 defining moments: 1910's-1930's