A grocery store is a store established primarily for the retailing of food. A grocer, the owner of a grocery store, stocks different kinds of foods from assorted places and cultures, and sells them to customers. Large grocery stores that stock products other than food, such as clothing or household items, are called supermarkets. Small grocery stores that mainly sell fruits and vegetables are known as produce markets (U.S) or greengrocers (Britain), and small grocery stores that predominantly sell snack foods and sandwiches are known as convenience stores or delicatessens.
History in the United States
U.S. grocery stores are descended from trading posts, which sold not only food but clothing, household items, tools, furniture, and other miscellaneous merchandise. These trading posts evolved into larger retail businesses known as general stores. These facilities generally dealt only in "dry" goods such as flour, dry beans, baking soda, and canned foods. Perishable foods were instead obtained from specialty markets: Fresh meat was obtained from a butcher, milk from a local dairy, eggs and vegetables were either produced by families themselves, bartered for with neighbors, or purchased at a farmers' market or a local greengrocer.
Many rural areas still contain general stores that sell goods ranging from cigars to imported napkins. Traditionally, general stores have offered credit to their customers, a system of payment that works on trust rather than modern credit cards. This allowed farm families to buy staples until their harvest could be sold.
The first self-service grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, was opened in 1916 in Memphis, Tennessee by Clarence Saunders, an inventor and entrepreneur. Prior to this innovation, customers gave orders to clerks to fill. Saunder's invention allowed a much smaller number of clerks to service the customers, proving successful (according to a 1929 Time magazine) "partly because of its novelty, partly because neat packages and large advertising appropriations have made retail grocery selling almost an automatic procedure."
The business of grocery stores varies from nation to nation; however, the stores are all similar in their principle selling of edible goods. The nature of these goods varies with local availability and traditional diet.
Because many European cities (Rome
, for example) are already so dense in population and buildings, large supermarkets, in the American sense, may not replace the neighborhood grocery store. However, 'Metro' stores have been appearing in town and city centres in many countries, leading to the decline of independent smaller stores, and large out-of-town supermarkets
, such as Tesco
in the United Kingdom
, have been steadily sapping the trade from smaller stores.
American grocery stores operate in many different styles ranging from rural family-owned operations, such as IGAs
, boutique chains, such as Whole Foods Market
and Trader Joe's
to larger supermarket chain stores. In some places " co-operative
" or "co-op" markets, owned by their own shoppers, have been popular. However, there has recently been a trend to larger stores serving larger geographic areas. Very large "all-in-one" hypermarkets
such as Wal-Mart
have recently forced consolidation of the grocery business in some areas. The global buying power of such very efficient companies has put an increased financial burden on traditional local grocery stores as well as the national supermarket
When a small grocery store is in competition with large supermarkets, the grocery store often must create a niche market by selling unique, premium quality, or ethnic foods that are not easily found in supermarkets. A small grocery store may also compete by locating in a mixed commercial-residential area close to, and convenient for, its customers.
Many grocery stores in America donate leftover food (for example, deli foods
and bread past their expiration date) to homeless shelters or charity kitchens.
The USDA estimates that 27% of food is lost annually.
Some groceries specialize in the foods of a certain nationality or culture, such as Italian
, oriental or Middle-Eastern
. These stores are known as ethnic markets and may also serve as gathering places for immigrants. In many cases, the wide range of products carried by larger supermarkets has reduced the need for such speciality stores.
Many teenagers find their first employment in grocery stores.
Notable grocery stores
- See List of supermarkets for more grocery stores and supermarkets.
Some notable grocery stores include:
The US Labor Department has calcuated that food purchased at home and in restaurants are 13 percent of household purchases, behind 32 percent for housing and 18 percent for transportation. The average US family spent $280 per month or $3,305 per year at grocery stores in 2004. The newsletter Dollar Stretcher survey found $149 a month for a single person, $257 for a couple and $396 for a family of four.