In the decade following World War II, a number of key developments took hold in America’s chain grocery business. One was a marked increase in the amount of non-food items carried, particularly in the area of health and beauty products. Once limited to a few brands of soap and sometimes a handful of other basic personal care items, the forties and early fifties saw this area evolve into a full-fledged “department”. Kroger was in the forefront of this trend, with most stores featuring a full health and beauty lineup by the end of the 1940’s.
Another trend, more visible, was an acceleration of the replacement of the small storefront grocery store with the supermarket. In the decades immediately following WWII, the average size of the chain grocers’ stores steadily grew from around 5,000 to 8,000 square feet at the war’s end to 20,000 to 30,000 square feet (or more) by the early 1960’s. During that period, the store counts of nearly all the major chains actually decreased, as two, three or more stores within a given trade area were replaced by one large supermarket. Kroger went from 2,611 stores in 1946 to 1,587 in 1955, for example, although sales more than doubled during the same period. The declining store count trend came to an end in the 1960’s when the conversion to supermarkets was largely complete, and the large chains grew rapidly by the continued addition of stores in new suburban areas and through acquisition.
On this front, Kroger was forced to move slower than many of its fellow large chains, due to the fact that it owned a large number of its properties, and were bound to others via long-term leases. Beyond this, the simple fact remained that a great number of Kroger’s smaller stores were very successful. Things gradually picked up steam as the 50’s progressed, and attractive new Kroger supermarkets opened in many shopping centers on main drags throughout their territories.
The year 1946 saw some key milestones in Kroger history. First, the company’s name was shortened from “The Kroger Grocery and Baking Co.” to simply “The Kroger Co.”, the name it continues to go by today. Also, the famous Raymond Loewy-designed logo, the “Kroger Blue” rectangle with distinctive white lettering made its first appearances on store signage, product packaging and in advertising. Prior to this time, no distinct logo was used (unless you count the “B.H. Kroger” script logo on the store windows in the chain’s earliest years) and the Kroger name appeared in a multitude of different lettering styles. The Loewy logo was modernized in 1961 to the version we’re familiar with today.
Another very significant event was the 1946 appointment of Joseph B. Hall as Kroger’s president. Hall, a Chicago native and graduate of the University of Chicago, joined Kroger in 1931 as head of real estate, working his way to the top of the company from there. Hall did much to hone Kroger’s successful management development program and was also a driving force behind Kroger’s aggressive growth through acquisition, particularly in the late 1950’s and early 60’s with the notable expansions into California and Texas among other areas. Under Hall’s leadership, Kroger revamped its line of private brands, dropping various long-used brand names in favor of a unified Kroger brand with the new logo. Hall would become company chairman in 1961, leaving the post in 1964 to become chairman of the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank.
Pictured above are two artists’ renderings from 1950 and 1951, featuring the Kroger blue blade pylon. Below are pictured several of Kroger’s well-selling private label products, resplendent with the famous logo. The “Spotlight” coffee brand was used for years, even in Kroger-owned stores that didn’t bear the Kroger name. In Atlanta, for example, where Kroger got its start in 1935 with the purchase of 25 Piggly Wiggly stores, Kroger’s Spotlight coffee was sold for many years before the stores were finally converted to the Kroger name.