In 1859, former leather tanner George Gilman started what would become The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company in New York City. His original concept, under the name Great American Tea Company, was to market imported tea and coffee. Following his father’s death in 1859, George Gilman proved himself a savvy entrepreneur and promoter of business. Business expanded to include extracts, and eventually groceries.
George Huntington Hartford, originally a clerk in 1859, assumed more and more responsibility in the company. By 1878, now under its current name (shortened to A&P), he had helped open 70 stores in 16 cities. By now, Gilman had retired, and the business was run by Hartford.
The company continued to grow and diversify. A&P was among the first grocers to offer its own “store brands” of certain items. The nation was on its way to having its first chain of supermarkets by 1900. Following the death of Gilman in 1901, the Hartford family eventually were able to purchase the interests of the Gilman heirs. Operational control of A&P remained in the hands of the Hartford family through 1951, although by now it was a publicly traded company.
By the mid-1960s, A&P was not only North America’s largest grocer, but also the largest overall retailer. However, size does not assure longevity.
Big, but not the first Supermarket
However, A&P was not the first supermarket. While A&P was an early innovator in the grocery industry, it did not open its first self-service supermarket until 1936, by which time several other supermarkets had already been established.
The concept of a large, self-service grocery store had been around for some time before the term “supermarket” was coined. Some earlier examples include Piggly Wiggly, which opened in Memphis, Tennessee in 1916.These early stores used many of the same techniques and strategies that would later become standard in supermarkets.
Supermarkets typically offer a self-service shopping experience, where customers are able to choose their own products from the shelves and pay for them at the checkout. They also carry a larger selection of products than traditional grocery stores, including fresh produce, meat and seafood, bakery items, packaged goods, household supplies, and health and beauty products. Supermarkets may also offer services such as in-store bakeries, pharmacies, and delis, as well as online ordering and delivery.
Winding Road to the End of the Trail
Here is the A&P timeline:
1859: George Gilman and George Huntington Hartford open a small tea and coffee store in New York City called Gilman & Company. They later renamed the company The Great American Tea Company, which became the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) in 1870.
1912: A&P goes public and begins to expand rapidly, opening hundreds of stores across the United States.
1936: A&P introduces its first self-service supermarket in the United States.
1950s-1960s: A&P continues to grow and becomes one of the largest retailers in the world, with over 4,000 stores.
1970s: A&P begins to face financial difficulties due to increased competition from other supermarket chains and changing consumer preferences. The company sells off many of its stores and begins to focus on smaller, more profitable locations.
1979: A&P is acquired by the Tengelmann Group, a German retail company. Tengelmann Group management became splintered without a founding visionary at the helm. Over a long period, capital demands, squeezing profit margins, perhaps too much emphasis on store brands, and intense competition led to its first Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. Here are some more reasons for Tengelmann’s lack of success:
Increased competition: A&P faced increased competition from other supermarket chains in the 1980s and 1990s, which eroded its market share and profitability.
Mismanagement: Some industry analysts have criticized Tengelmann’s management of A&P, arguing that the company failed to invest in store upgrades and marketing to keep up with the competition.
Union troubles: A&P had a history of contentious relations with labor unions, which contributed to strikes and other labor disputes that disrupted store operations and damaged the company’s reputation.
Debt: A&P carried a significant amount of debt, which limited the company’s ability to invest in its stores and expand its operations.
Consumer preferences: As consumer preferences shifted towards larger, more modern supermarkets and discount stores, A&P struggled to keep up with the changing market.
2010: A&P files for bankruptcy and closes many of its stores.
2015: A&P’s remaining stores are sold to several different companies, including Stop & Shop, Acme Markets, and Key Food Stores.
Final demise of A&P as a retail operation followed it second Chapter 11 filing in 2015. By then, grocers were taking your order online and delivering to your door.
Various stores and other assets were acquired by the likes of Albertsons, Stop & Shop, Wakefern, Morton Williams, and Key Food.
- Year Started: 1859
- Year Ended: 2016
- Origin Of Name: Original product name – geographic
- Location Sales: North America
- Brand Name Predecessor: Great American Tea Company
- Brand Name Successor: Many
- Owner Original: George F. Gilman and George Huntington Hartford
- Owner While In Use: Publicly Traded
- Owner Successor: Many
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Kroger
- Naics Code: 445110
- Location Headquarters: New York, New York, United States