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The roots of UK's biggest supermarkets

Updated on July 21, 2011
Waitrose
Waitrose

Supermarkets revolutionised the way people shopped. Because of their size, supermarkets have been accused by some of abusing their position by forcing smaller local shops out of business. But we won't forget, supermarkets themselves were small local grocery stalls, We can trace back to their roots in the 19th century Co-operative movement through which groups of local retailers would come together to sell affordable food under the control of consumer members. To some extent, these giant monsters have been bred and nurtured by local retailers and their consumer members ourselves.

  • The Co-operative Group – 1844 Rochdale Pioneers Society established.Its members pooled together one pound sterling per person for a total of 28 pounds of capital.
  • Marks & Spencer – In 1884, a peddler Michael Marks opened his first stall on a trestle table, In 1894 Marks entered into a partnership with Tom Spencer with Spencer paying £300 for his half-share.
  • Sainsbury’s – founded as a partnership in 1869 by John James Sainsbury and his wife.
  • Somerfield – 1875, A small family grocery store was opened by J H Mills in Bristol.
  • Morrisons - In 1899, egg and butter merchant William Morrison opened a stall in a Bradford market.
  • Waitrose – Wallace Waite, Arthur Rose and David Taylor opened their first small grocery shop at in 1904.
  • Aldi - Established in 1913 in Germany, Aldi operates what are known in the grocery business as "limited-assortment" stores or "hard discounters."
  • Tesco – 1919 Jack Cohen opened its first groceries stall.
  • Lidl – Lidl's history goes as far back as the 1930's when the company was founded as a grocery wholesale in Germany.
  • Asda – was founded as Associated Dairies & Farm Stores Limited in 1949 in Leeds.
  • Iceland - Iceland began business in 1970, Malcolm Walker and his partners invested £30 each, which was for only one month's rent at their Shropshire store.

Co-op
Co-op

The Co-operative Group was born out of the cooperative movement which began in Europe in the 19th century, primarily in Britain and France. 1844 Rochdale Pioneers Society established, whose members were 28 weavers and other artisans in Rochdale. As the mechanization of the Industrial Revolution was forcing more and more skilled workers into poverty, these tradesmen decided to band together to open their own store selling food items they could not otherwise afford. Over a period of four months they struggled to pool together one pound sterling per person for a total of 28 pounds of capital. Based on their eight 'Rochdale rules', including distributing a share of profits according to purchases that came to be known as 'the divi'.They opened their store with a very meager selection of butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and a few candles. Within three months, they expanded their selection to include tea and tobacco.

Sainsbury's was founded as a partnership in 1869 by John James Sainsbury and his wife Mary Ann (née Staples), in London, England. He started as a retailer of fresh foods and later expanded into packaged groceries such as tea and sugar. Sainsbury's grew rapidly during the Victorian era, and became the largest grocery retailer in 1922, pioneered self-service retailing in the UK, and its heyday was during the 1980s.

In 1884, Michael Marks, a peddler who born in 1859 in a Jewish ghetto, had opened his first stall on a trestle table in Leeds market, selling a range of cheap goods all priced at one penny, including hair pins, dolly dyes, and black lead; he is said to have paid 18 pence for the privilege. In 1894 Marks entered into a partnership with Tom Spencer with Spencer paying £300 for his half-share. Tom Spencer, cashier for Leeds textile wholesaler Isaac Jowitt Dewhirst, was an experienced bookkeeper, and Dewhirst had helped Marks by teaching him English and providing him with small loans.

Tesco started life in 1919 when Jack Cohen started selling surplus groceries from a stall in the East End of London. Mr Cohen made a profit of £1 from sales of £4 on his first day.

The Tesco brand first appeared five years later in 1924 when he bought a shipment of tea from a Mr T. E Stockwell. The initials and letters were combined to form Tes-co and in 1929 Mr Cohen opened the flagship Tesco store in Burnt Oak, North London.

Morrisons also grew from market stall to superstore.1899 – Stall opens in Bradford Market. In 1899, egg and butter merchant William Morrison opened a stall in a Bradford market.

When Wallace Waite, Arthur Rose and David Taylor opened their first small grocery shop at 263 Acton Hill, West London in 1904, little did they know that within a century the company would have become one of the country's leading food retailers employing over 37,000 people.

Iceland began business in 1970, when Malcolm Walker opened the first store in Oswestry, Shropshire with his business partners Peter Hinchcliffe, Colin Harris, Thomas Duffin and John Apthorp investing £30 each. This was for only one month's rent at their Shropshire store. They were all still employees of Woolworths at the time, and their employment was terminated once their employer discovered their job on the side. Iceland initially specialised in loose frozen food.

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    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      9 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Thanks for this most interesting hub. It is an inspiration as they all started from such small enterprises. I wonder if such a growth could happen today. I enjoyed it very much.

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