If the French and English armies had originally benefited from the convenience and portability of canned provisions, American troops fighting in Europe and Asia depended on them even more. Soldiers went into battle with a can opener hanging around their neck along side their dog tags. It was a vital tool for survival. The government allocated scarce metal for can production because nearly two-thirds of the Allies' food supply was in cans. For example, the U.S. War Department bought 75 percent of all available canned salmon and 40 percent of canned tomatoes during war time. And, as had been the case with the Civil War, the soldier's trust of canned foods returned home with him after the war.
There, the post-war boom and a new age in American consumerism were waiting. Suburban living, household appliances, and supermarket shopping dramatically changed the landscape for the average American family. Cans appeared in every facet of a busy and rich life: house paint, shaving cream, hair spray, tomato soup, pet food, Coca-Cola… a well stocked pantry and a station wagon full of grocery bags were signs of prosperity and affluence.
The pre-packaging and labeling of products, enabled by the can and other containers, had fundamentally changed the relationship between the consumer and the shopping experience. Whereas previously a clerk stood behind a counter and between the consumer and the goods—setting prices, measuring out parcels, recommending brands—the availability of packaged items allowed the shopper to see and choose goods for themselves. Shelves lined with cans depicting bright illustrations of tender peas, glistening pears, golden pastures and healthy babies allowed everyone the democratized shopping opportunity of choosing among a rainbow of enticing goodies. Their labels educated shoppers about the products inside and allowed consumers to form brand loyalty to favorites.Canned products had appealed to homemakers for decades (canned baby food, for instance, appeared in the 1920s), but never before had the housewife been in command of such a disposable income or so jealously courted by makers of household goods. What is more, the convenience and familiarity of canned products had created a near revolution in the way women did their shopping in the previous years, culminating in the prevalence of the chain grocery store.
The first A&P's (named after the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company) opened in 1849.
In an era marked by the advent of home economics, good housekeeping, and "boomer" babies, canned products became the housewife's best friends. Not only were canned goods more cost-effective, but more convenient as well. A variety of nutritious ingredients were at her fingertips when preparing meals for her family. A food writer in 1953 called the can opener "the open sesame to freedom . . . from tedium, space, work, and your own inexperience." Women's magazines featured recipes such as chicken and mushroom crepes or tuna-noodle casserole using canned condensed soups. Now anyone could easily be a good homemaker. Canned goods not only aided her in the kitchen; furniture polish, disinfectants, aerosol sprays and talcum powder helped her keep house and still have time to pamper herself.These stores were the first to recognize the efficiency of self-service. What started out as a high-end tea and coffee store rapidly multiplied into a prolific chain of no-frills markets. With a few hundred items, one clerk to ring purchases, and very low overhead, A&P paved the way to the future of grocery shopping. Piggly Wiggly opened in 1916; King Kullen added a new size dimension in 1930; soon, Krogers, Safeway, and Jewel moved into every town. In 1937, the collapsible grocery cart was invented, allowing shoppers to easily wheel their purchases through the store and freeing them from the limits of their own strength. High volume provided lower prices so that canned goods helped to reduce the percentage of its income the average family spent on groceries.
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