The Real Difference Between A Grocery Store And A Supermarket

By Brian Scheid | Published

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After reading this article, whenever you encounter a family or friend who makes a statement like, “I’m going to Walmart because I need to go to the grocery store. ” You will have the urge to correct their use of the words grocery store because Walmart is, in fact, a supermarket. Many individuals use the term grocery store and supermarket interchangeably when talking about going shopping for either food items or household goods, but there actually is a difference.

The reality is they are separate terms with different definitions, and this even comes into play when the debate ranges about who opened the first supermarket. To understand the difference, it’s important to start back at the beginning. At the turn of the 20th century, society did all their shopping at small local shops that specialized in specific products. For example, if one needed meat, one would go to the butcher shop. If one needed bread, they would visit a bakery, and so on and so forth.

Another difference when shopping back then is that all the items that a business sold were contained behind the counter. Individuals would have to ask the clerk for a particular item instead of just grabbing it from a shelf themselves. Then came the supermarket.

In 1916 a store called the Piggly Wiggly opened its doors and claimed the title of the world’s first supermarket. They had two unique aspects that had not been seen before, which was you could purchase all types of grocery products in one place. It also allowed the customer to walk around and pick the items up themselves.

When the customer had everything they needed, they could go to the counter and pay for the items, instead of waiting for the clerk to finish up with the prior customer to assist them. It’s interesting to note that the latter was the more exciting of the two enhancements to the shopping experience, and thus drove the success of Piggly Wiggly.

The ability to get your products from the shelves is the aspect that changed the grocery business forever. The Piggly Wiggly, being the world’s first supermarket, is not an uncontested title in that industry. In 1930 King Kullen opened its doors and was the first supermarket that not only offered groceries but also offered a wide range of household products.

That is where the debate on what a grocery store is and what a supermarket is took shape. Publications like Time Magazine have given Piggly Wiggly the title of the first supermarket even though the definition of a grocery store more accurately fits the first incarnations of Piggly Wiggly locations. According to Daily Meal, “not only are grocery stores an older concept,they’re also focused solely on food. The 1916 version of Piggly Wiggly, which offered only foodstuffs, would be considered a grocery store, today Piggly Wiggly is actually a supermarket, as it has expanded its offerings to include household and hygiene products, among others.”

The final word on this would be places like Trader Joe’s that exclusively have grocery products with maybe a few household items would be a grocery store, and a Walmart that has groceries and a full array of other product offerings would be considered a supermarket. So next time someone makes that mistake feel free to correct them on their misuse of the English language and share your newfound knowledge with the world.