1969 Self-service dominates grocery sales

4-Square was a buying group helping smaller foodstores embrace self-service

By the end of the 1960s, 70% of Victorian metropolitan grocery sales were self-service. Smaller stores formed buying groups to remain competitive. Confectionery and milk, previously available through milk bars and mixed businesses, now began to appear in supermarkets and fresh food became a new focus.

According to a Senate report, in 1957 there were 1700 self-service grocery stores in Australia. By the end of the following decade, self-service was dominating the grocery trade with Coles, Woolworths, Safeway and Franklins all major players.

The Four Square group, which originated in New Zealand, arrived in Australia in 1952.  Buying groups for the grocery trade had emerged in the 1950s as a way for small grocers to compete with larger operators and chains. Now they helped their members convert to the self-service model and devised promotions to draw people to their local store.

In South Australia, newspaper articles announced:

Soon, in the four corners of South Australia, a new name will be seen on many Grocers’ Stores, a name which will become the foremost in the State, a name which you will learn to trust,  namely FOUR SQUARE. There will be over 150 progressive, enterprising and approved grocers with their own privately owned stores trading under the FOUR SQUARE name. The FOUR SQUARE organisation is an alert, active one, completely equipped to give the customer the benefits of modern food marketing. As well, there will still be that personal service of the Individual grocer which is so prized by the people as a whole.

Four Square persisted in Queensland until 2012 when, in a deal with Metcash, the group changed its name to Friendly Grocer.

Metcash evolved from an Australian grocery wholesale group, Davids, which had been founded by Lebanese immigrant Joseph David in 1937. Always innovative, the company was the first to use a computerised punch card system to control inventory. In the 1960s, they formed the Supa Value chain of independent retailers.

Davids went on to gain control of the Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA) which had been set up in 1926, as well as other independent groups including Jewel, Festival IGA, Foodtown and Welcome Mart. In the late 1990s the group was taken over by a South African operation Metro Cash and Carry and became Metcash – still a major player in Australia’s grocery industry.

Many other groups have come and gone, including Australian United Retailers Ltd., FoodWorks, Foodstore, Buy Rite, Cut Price, Rite-Way, Food-Rite, Tuckerbag and Foodway.

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