In 1928, William Albers had become president of Kroger Grocery & Bakery Co and over the next two years oversaw an expansion of the chain from 190 to 5600 stores. It was during his time as president that Krogers received a letter from one of their managers, Michael Cullen, proposing a revolutionary method of grocery retailing – what became the supermarket model. It seems Albers never saw the letter and Cullen received no reply. He subsequently decided to go it alone. In 1930, he set up what is now acknowledged as the world’s first supermarket: King Kullen.
That same year, William Albers resigned from Kroger’s, apparently because of differences he had with the company’s board of directors. He wasted little time in founding his own grocery business: Albers Super Markets Inc.
As well as introducing the term supermarket, it seems Albers was the first chain to use florescent lighting and provide grocery carts for customers. The stores were fully self service, with wide aisles, and sold a variety of nationally recognised brands (rather than private label merchandise). Albers stores were the first to price every item so customers could see what the cost was as they shopped.
It’s probably no coincidence that the supermarket concept first took off in the 1930s during the years of the Great Depression. Despite resistance from traditional grocery retailers who protested that they were being undercut, customers responded to the promise of cheaper food prices.
It didn’t take too long for supermarkets to reach Australia. By 1938 a Newcastle, NSW retailer was advertising itself as Farr’s Super Market in Hunter Street West.