Even before war broke out, the 1910s were shaping up to be a decade of tensions. As well as jingoistic foreign policy, riots and strikes were accompanied by prolonged and public unrest from the Suffragette movement.
At least the Irish Question looked like it might be answered, as the Third Irish Home Rule Bill was passed in May 1914. The bill was due to become law on 18 September, but was suspended after Britain declared war on Germany the day after its invasion of Belgium on 3 August.
It’s hardly surprising that the Great War took its toll on grocery. Some prominent names had emerged at the start of the decade, including Oxo cubes (1910), Heinz soup (1910), Thorntons (1911), Wrigley’s gum (1911) and Palmolive (1913).
Over the next four years, innovation almost came to a standstill. Almost, but not entirely: Cadbury launched Milk Tray and its now-obsolete sister brand Plain Tray in 1915. The name ‘Tray’ derived from the way in which the original assortments were supplied to the shops. Originally packed in 5.5lb boxes, they would be put out on trays and sold loose to customers. In 1916, Cadbury introduced a new style of packaging - a deep-lidded half-pound box with a purple background and a gold script. By the mid 1930s, the Milk Tray assortment was outselling all its competitors.
Even for those not called up, the war had a significant impact on the provision of food and drink, although rationing wasn’t seen until the latter stages, when German U-boats started to target ships carrying food and medical equipment. Bread rationing was introduced in February 1917. In July 1918, ration books were brought in for margarine, butter, lard, meat and sugar. Rationing for butter and sugar remained in place until 1920.
There were also some landmark pieces of legislation during the war itself - for instance, the official importation of Friesian cattle in 1914, and 1917’s Corn Production Act, which guaranteed minimum prices for wheat and oats.
In unrelated news, in Tennessee, US, Piggly Wiggly launched the first-ever supermarket in 1916. It was to be 30 years - and an entirely different World War - later before the UK was to embrace this game-changing concept.