1950… He’s bootiful… Purchasing an incubator and 20 turkey eggs, Bernard Matthews starts out on the first chapter in his cheap poultry crusade. Bernard Matthews now produces nearly seven million of the birds a year across its 56 East Anglian farms.
1951… Britain’s first supermarket… Arguably the opening of the first Express Dairies store in Streatham Hill should be billed here with flashing lights, since the supermarket is THE defining moment in the history of grocery. But it’s not always about being first, is it?
1952.. Morrisons makes its move… Ken Morrison takes over his father’s market stall in Bradford. Scarcely a decade later he’s opening his first supermarket. In Bradford, of course. But lots more follow. No big supermarket chain is more synonymous with one man than Sir Ken.
1953… TV dinner-time… Building on Clarence Birdseye’s 1920 work developing ‘quick freezing’ techniques, Swanson Foods launches the first frozen ‘TV dinner’, a Thanksgiving turkey meal in a segregated aluminium tray. Convenience food is never the same again.
1955… First ad hits TV screens… “It’s tingling fresh. It’s fresh as ice. It’s Gibbs SR toothpaste”. There’s not a special CGI effect in sight as the first TV ad is aired, starring a tube of toothpaste in a block of ice and a woman named Meg Smith brushing her teeth in the approved manner of ‘up and down and round the gums’. It airs at 8.12pm on September 22 during a variety show performance hosted by Jack Johnson. Gibbs’ TV first was purely down to chance as the advert came first in a lottery containing 23 other ads from brands such as Guinness, Surf, Summer County Margarine and Brown & Polson Custard. It was modest beginnings for an industry that is today worth billions and has featured everything from teadrinking chimps to horses that surf as the nation falls in love with the telly.
1955… Riding the microwave… Tappan starts to sell the first microwave ovens suitable for home use in the mid-1950s. They are ungainly and expensive, but pave the way for the counter-top ovens, introduced in 1967, and open up new avenues for the ready-meals market.
1957… Sparred on… As supermarket power grew, the first wholesaler group to form was AIG, but the UK franchise for this Continent-based player quickly established itself as the best. Today the symbol covers over 2,600 stores and employs 50,000 people.
1957… Cash & carry on… Ramsgate isn’t famed for much, but it plays a key role in grocery history as Home & Colonial subsidiary Vye & Son opens the first-ever cash & carry. The new self-service concept didn’t have quite the same impact as it did in grocery, but it’s close.
1958… Stamp of approval… The Green Shield Trading Stamp Company is launched, an early shopper reward scheme. Tesco signs up in 1963. The idea is so popular that a ‘stamp war’ ensues, while a war of words breaks out with retailers who won’t join up.
1958… Food prices capped… Europe will never go hungry again. At least that’s the plan when CAP is introduced. The main aim of the new policy is to provide consumers with food at reasonable prices. Today it accounts for almost half of the EU’s annual budget.
1959… It’s in the can… Coors becomes the first company to use the aluminium beverage can. More malleable and lighter than steel, aluminium is also a cost-effective metal to recycle. Today 39 billion cans are manufactured annually.
1959… Ethnic ranges developed… When Sainsbury’s starts stocking lines popular with the Jewish community at its Swiss Cottage store in 1959, it marks the first time a multiple has tailored its range to multicultural British tastes. It’s the precursor to the creation of ethnic food aisles.
The Grocer's 150 defining moments: the 1860s
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The Grocer's 150 defining moments: the 1950's