Feeding the nation
Truck & Driver|February 2021
They may not be glamourous but they’re one of the biggest and most important sectors of our transport industry. So let’s shine the spotlight on some unsung heroes
Peter Davies

A reliable transport service is vitally important in today’s world, none more so than in the supermarket business. Without an efficient distribution industry to keep the shelves stocked we would all go hungry. The thousands of trucks that are on the go every day, Tesco alone runs around 1300 tractor units and 4000 trailers plus 450 rigids, are the lifeblood of this country. As well as the supermarkets’ own fleets there are thousands more serving the supply chain.

At one time, back in the ‘50s, shopping meant trudging around to individual retailers almost on a daily basis. You’d go to the local baker for bread, the butcher for meat, the greengrocer for vegetables while other things like eggs, flour, tea, sugar and breakfast cereals would mean a visit to the general grocery shop. Milk, of course, would arrive on your doorstop in the morning courtesy of your local dairy. Not everyone had a fridge back then and home freezers were few and far between.

The whole shopping experience was to change with the advent of supermarkets. Self-service supermarkets first began in a small way in Britain in the ‘50s and became more established in the ‘60s. The growth in both the number and size of supermarkets progressed rapidly during the ‘70s and ‘80s and the industry saw numerous mergers and takeovers as today’s market leaders like Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons began to emerge.

The concept of large, self-service stores originated in America as early as 1916 but it wasn’t until after World War Two that they arrived in the UK. Sainsbury’s can lay claim to being the first to exploit the idea when it opened such a store in Croydon back in 1950. Fine Fare followed in 1951 with an outlet in Welwyn Garden City. A decade or so later Safeway, a subsidiary of the American giant Safeway Inc, appeared on the scene and opened a store in Bedford.

Numerous smaller players have come and gone including the likes of Presto, Wavy Line (Kinloch), VG Food Stores (Harvey Bradfield & Toyer), Bishops, Londis, Bejam, Vivo, Gateway and Fine Fare. Wavy Line, for instance, was absorbed into Booker Foods in 1976 while Presto became part of Safeway, which itself ended up in Morrisons. VG Food Stores was taken over by Alldays which was then absorbed by the Co-op. That deal included Circle K. Other more recent brands, still going strong, include Nisa and Netto.

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