History of the supermarket


History of supermarket

All you need is shopping


ALL YOU NEED IS SHOPPINGA shopping mall is like a dead-end city, that is, an ordinary place in a suspended space-time. Its urbanization is designed in function of the industrial zone and the suburbs are named after the commercial agglomerations. The streets, the roads, the neighborhoods, are replaced by aisles, corridors, departments, as in a supermarket. The routes are obligatory, all exits lead back to the entrance of the store. The individual feeds on subliminal messages, absorbs a language emptied of its original meaning, mainly exists only as a consumer.
This is also, and above all, a story of low rhetorical and outdated demagogy: between present and future, everything has already happened, past, and yet, we have not seen it.

History of the supermarket

United States

This is the story of a vision. The new golden age, a virus that will spread to conquer every part of the planet more than a thousand battles. The era of consumption begins (or rather, it began a few years ago). Yes, all things are born in America and Alberto Sordi expresses the concept perfectly in Un americano a Roma, a 1954 film, a satire on the foreign myth of Italy at the time.

It is September 6, 1916. The first supermarket in history opened in Memphis, Tennessee. It was called Piggly Wiggly.
Customs changed: the self-service system whereby the customer chooses items replaced the service provided by the clerk behind the counter. The reduction in personnel costs, even at that time, affects the average receipt. It is a boom in sales. Other retail stores adapt: they change reason and transform themselves into supermarkets.
Fast forward to 1937. Piggly Wiggly starts a revolution that structurally endures to this day: placing a checkout barrier at the exit, putting labels on its products, providing shopping carts to customers, but in fascist Italy closed by autarchy all this still does not filter through.


It’s 1957, twenty years after Piggly’s revolution. In Milan, in a workshop on Viale Regina Giovanna, the first Italian supermarket is inaugurated, Supermarkets Italia, which later becomes Esselunga, the one with the S that encompasses all the other letters. It is a logo designed by the Swiss Max Huber.
A company formed by Marco Busnelli, the Crespi family, the American tycoon Nelson Rockefeller and the three Caprotti brothers, makes a decisive step forward for humanity, perhaps, in terms of practical life, much more than the landing on the moon because it finally reached the planet of consumption that made man not a living being but a customer being.
Nelson Rockefeller is not a person, but a way of saying. When I was a boy, people used to say: who do you think you are, Rockefeller?

At home, he is a living legend. The American tycoon, in that period, deals with the investment of capital in countries on the road to development, trying to synthesize capital with solidarity, offering job opportunities and economic prerequisites. Italy is the ideal port.
A few steps back. In our country, a kind of large-scale distribution was already present. Along the lines of the French Bon Marché (1830), thanks to an intuition of Gabriele D’Annunzio, La Rinascente was born in Italy. It is, however, about clothes and not food, and it is an atmosphere wisely represented by Emile Zola‘s work Au bonheur des dames (1883). Zola is one who manages to capture his time, being also the author of Le Ventre de Paris (1873), the novel set in the Parisian markets of Les Halles. History of the supermarket

Roaring years

It’s the Italy of the economic boom trained by Carosello, it’s the time of the Fiat 600, a symbol of the middle class and a status quo. Social distances are reduced and the standard of living rises. The working class discovers new horizons, later it will also go to heaven, but that’s another matter.
Italy is the country of promises, they are promissory notes and are called bills of exchange. Everything seems possible, comforts and entertainment. Those who know how to move will go a long way. Vespa or Lambretta, what does it matter? There is the promissory note. The future is not scary, there is great optimism. People get married and start a family. It’s the moment of the household appliance, especially two: the television, which will really unite a country that has come out of the war, and the refrigerator, which will also affect the habits of shopping.

Bernardo Capriotti, regarding the success of the first supermarkets, refers to very specific factors: lighting, product-saving packaging, assembly line, wide assortment, cash register, no credit to customers, refrigeration both in the counters of the stores and in the homes, and also the private means of locomotion used to reach the areas of the large stores and to load up on products, that is, to spend more and consume more. Large spaces with low rents, free parking. Television and advertising. The recipe has evolved over time but the principles have remained the same.
Not immediately, however, supermarket fever broke out in Italy. It happened with the increase in the number of women at work and therefore have less time to shop and with the advent of the first commercial televisions.
It is, therefore, a synthesis of conditions such as the path of milk from the countryside to the metropolis, the creation of various structures and infrastructures, and social events, that imposed the supermarket as a symbolic place of consumption and changed the ingrained habits of the average Italian who, up to a certain point, continued to prefer the neighborhood store.

Manipulation or persuasion?

First, we need to define the difference between development and progress. Pier Paolo Pasolini would say that those who manage economic power want development, that is, the creation of superfluous goods. Progress, on the other hand, is the creation of necessary goods.
Any honest marketing expert will tell you another fundamental difference. It is that between manipulation and persuasion. In persuasion, the salesman tries to understand and identify the customer’s needs, and of course, solve one of his problems to mutual satisfaction. In manipulation, the seller lies about the product or service he is selling, listens to the customer only to hit him in the weak points, and achieves his own end.
Now, it is difficult to determine whether the concept of American-style shopping, the supermarket, comes close to the concept of development or progress and whether those who manage the Great Organized Distribution, are manipulators or persuaders.

Human nature seemed to be under a spell: in a single place, it found everything. The value of the goods did not exist, the price existed. On the Internet, endless debates took place regarding the persuasions that solicited the consumer. The consumer went in for one thing only, and his cart was overflowing at the exit. Placing a futile item at the entrance triggered the individual’s fever of having. The signs were placed in such a way as to make one travel a long distance to get from one point to another; specific strategies induced one to buy items artfully placed along the way that would end up in the shopping. Basic necessities were found at the bottom when the cart was already full.
Cast and Customer

People’s lives are not in advertising. I wrote Cast and Customer and All you need is shopping because there is so much more to grocery bills than just minimal stories. Gathered together like a big puzzle, average receipts form the real economy of a country.

History of the supermarket


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