How shopping has changed in 70 years

Commemorating 70 years of change since D-Day


grocer shop in Dringhouses near York. Yorkshire

The 70th anniversary of D-Day reminds us of what a lucky time we live in. When we talk of times of austerity and hardship, the last few years is small potatoes compared to the terrible deprivation and suffering of wartime.

To mark the anniversary, we look back at how our spending habits have changed in the intervening years.

Fish Queue

In calculating inflation, the Office for National Statistics puts together a basket of commonly-bought items and calculates how their prices have changed. Over time, things that have been added or deleted from the basket reveal an awful lot about our spending patterns. Between 1940 and 1949, for example, we saw condensed milk added to the list - reflecting the popularity of canned food in a pre-fridge age. Soap flakes were also added, as were a mangle, tin kettle and radio set.

The following decade we saw the kettle and soap flakes leave the basket to make room for camera film, lard and beetroot. In the 60s we saw the arrival of the girdle and oil heaters. In the 1970s it was beer in party containers and dried mashed potato. In the 1980s we saw the arrival of the microwave and personal cassette players. In the 1990s it was the personal stereo and contact lenses, in the 2000s it was fruit smoothies and portable digital storage devices, and in the 2010s it was ebooks and apps.

Frozen Food

These shopping trends are a powerful reminder of the lifestyle changes that were taking place during this time. The 1950 and 1960s saw the arrival of the fridge and the freezer, so shopping became more irregular, and there was more of an emphasis on convenience. The rise of sliced bread and frozen chicken in the following decade is testament to the fact that austerity and restriction were beginning to give way to easy consumption.

By the 1970s and 1980s the trends start to reflect that more women were working, and that household appliances were doing much of the chores that used to occupy half the adults in the home. The rise of the microwave and the ready meal were strong features of the 1980s.

At the same time, the way we allocated the household budget was changing. Immediately after the war, feeding the family was the biggest single expenditure for families - as it absorbed more than a third of the household income. That has changed dramatically: we now spend 9% on feeding the family - while housing has become our biggest expense at 23% of household income - followed by transport at 15%.

Recreation and leisure spending has increased from a bare minimum to take up 11% of the household budget. Over that time, one of the driving forces of change is that even after inflation, our incomes have been soaring. Our disposable income has grown more than 250% - partly due to the rise of dual income households.

It's not just consumers who have changed: shops are unrecognisable too. Rationing and price controls were a feature immediately after the war. Government rationing of sugar, coffee, canned goods, meat, fish, butter and cheese began in 1942 and it wasn't completely lifted until 1954. This decade saw the high street begin to evolve, and saw the opening of the first small-scale self-service stores by Sainsbury's on the high street. The 1960s saw the opening up of price competition with the abolition of resale price maintenance in 1964. It also saw the very first edge-of-city superstore, which opened in West Bridgford in 1964 - and the first Asda in 1965.


By the 1970s independent shops were starting to close to make way for big chains, and by the 1980s supermarkets were gaining dominance: during this time their typical size began to mushroom to match the Hypermarkets of Europe. The 1990s saw the expansion of trading hours and the introduction of the loyalty card, and in 1995 the internet shopping age kicked off with the establishment of Amazon. The last 14 years has seen those trends continue, with the advent of 24-hour shopping, and the growth of shopping online. By 2018 Verdict predicts that £1 in every £7 will be spent online. In the last decade this has been accompanied by a marked decline in the high street.

We have moved from a state in the 1960s when independents made up 60% of the market and retails chains just 29% - to one where 85% of the market is made up of by chains and there are just 7% independents.

Economic crisis

Since the recession of recent years there have been searching questions asked about the future of shopping. There are those who question whether there is a role for the traditional high street any more, whether stores have a new role providing entertainment and a way to spend our leisure time now that we do so much of our shopping out of town and online - or whether they should simply be closed down to make way for more housing.

There are those who long for the past - where independent shops on the high street brought character to the area and shopping was a community experience. But there are also those who recognise that dual-income households are far better suited to ordering ready-meals online and having them delivered once a week than going from shop to shop every day to buy the ingredients for that day's meal.

What do you think? What era would you have liked to do your weekly shopping in?

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