Bernie Anderson
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Current musings, whatever they may be. 

The Fall and Rise of the Professional Butcher

Grocery stores in America have had a radical makeover in the past 100 years.

There was a day when you would go to a grocer and hand him a list, with a counter separating you. He would examine the list and expertly pull and measure out your items.

  • A pound of sugar.
  • Two pounds of flour.
  • A bottle of vanilla.
  • Some of those fancy new-fangled canned green beans.

If you want bread, you have to go to the baker. Further up the road is the butcher. And finally, if you need a little something for a nagging heading you might stop at the apothecary.

Shopping might take the better part of a day in 1910 America.

On September 11, 1916, the world changed.

Clarence Saunders opened the first Piggly Wiggly Supermarket in Memphis, TN. This changed everything.

Customers could choose their items without the assistance of a professional grocer. People could shop for everything they need in the same place. They serve themselves and the store hires a few folks to take money. No need for professional grocers, bakers, or butchers.

It’s 1916. The idea of modern convenience rules the day.

Supermarkets changed everything. It was the start of mass food commerce in America. Entire industries erupted because of grocery stores, including branding and packaging, graphic design and copywriting. People started taking their children shopping with them, so the food industry began placing brightly colored packages covered with cartoon characters on shelves at the same level as the new-fangled fold-out seat in the shopping cart. Somehow to create all of this.

Supermarkets became an American phenomenon. Other cultures have slowly embraced the concept. Others have not. When we lived in Central Asia, it took a half-day to shop because there were very few supermarkets where we lived at the time,

Butchers, bakers, and grocers became a historical occupation in America.

Until recently.

Fast-forward to 2019. We’re on the edge of more revolution and disruption. A specialty butcher shop opened just up the road from me. Right across the street from a well-known supermarket. Why? They’re more expensive. And less convenient?

Yet, every time I go by there seems to be a crowd.

It could be because people are getting their staples online and delivered to their home, and seeking out other sources for specialty items like meat and bread. In 2018 online grocery sales were a 17.5 billion dollar industry. That number is expected to top $30 billion by 2021. The coming AI revolution will disrupt things further.

Perhaps we’ll see a rise of local butchers and bakers again? It’s possible. But, as with every radical change, we will also so the rise of new industries that we haven’t thought about yet.

Watch carefully.

Innovation will have its implications, for good or for ill, predictable or unforeseen.