A quick glance at the front page of this week's SN is sufficient to signal that something unusual is going on. It's this: We're taking a break this week from the journal's usual format to commemorate SN's 50th year of publishing. So, in keeping with that, let's take a look at how SN came to be, and at the industry that spawned it.
Strange to relate, I have a booklet that has languished in my files for years that provides a history of the founding of SN. Lucky thing; otherwise, there would be no institutional memory of how it came about. The booklet, titled "The Shifting Sands of Distribution," is the text of a speech given in May 1952 to a trade group in New York by H.M. Love, then Fairchild Publication's director of new publishing activities. SN is a unit of Fairchild Publications, New York, as it has been since its founding. (For more on SN's history and the ownership permutations of its parent company, see Page 24.)
Fifty years ago, Love explained to his audience that the toiletries business was shifting from urban department stores to suburban supermarkets, a development that was worrisome to the publisher of Women's Wear Daily, dependent as it was on business news concerning department stores. WWD then was Fairchild's flagship business publication, as it is now.
He described to his audience a development we now call "channel blurring," using terms that seem strangely familiar: "The shifting sands of distribution are uprooting the very fundamentals of conventional retailing. Food goes into the department store. Housewares, apparel, toilet goods, the prescription clerk, laundromat, the gasoline filling station -- radio, TV -- go into the food store."
So, given the dispersal of business away from department stores, it was decided in October 1951 to consider hedging Fairchild's bets by starting publication of a newspaper that would follow sales as they migrated to supermarkets. Six months later -- on April 21, 1952 -- a plan had been approved by WWD's publisher, and SN's inaugural issue appeared as an independent publication.
So what news was on the front page of SN's first issue? Again, strange to relate, much of it looks familiar, bridging past to present. The lead news article had to do with consolidation, specifically the purchase by National Tea Co. of C.F. Smith Co., a food retailer founded in 1901.
Additionally, there was a news article about the upcoming May convention of the Super Market Institute. It seems that intense price competition was to be discussed since it "served as grit to slow down the sleigh-ride of easy selling in the supermarket field." SMI was a predecessor to the Food Marketing Institute, which still meets annually in May.
One quaint article concerned home-freezer plans, under which consumers would buy a freezer together with an agreement to have it continuously stocked. It was written by Lester Gilbert of Fairchild's Los Angeles bureau. In yet another connection that bridges 50 years, it was Les, now 80 and retired, who in 1969 hired SN reporter Elliot Zwiebach. Elliot remains in SN's Los Angeles bureau to this day.