Three decades removed, opinions are divided about the styles of the 1970’s. Some call it “the decade that taste forgot”, while others appear determined, consciously or unconsciously, to duplicate the 70’s look with every single outfit they wear. One thing I’m sure of based upon my memories of that time and on seeing these pictures (and other 70’s stuff on this site and elsewhere) today - the color and pattern combinations could hardly have been wilder. Plaids, stripes, flowered patterns, you name it – it was all there and could usually be seen in the same room, or even the same outfit! Funny thing is, they almost look interchangeable today – the plaid on the lady’s suit would’ve worked as a wallpaper pattern, and the green stripes on the deli wall would have made a cool outfit for her. (Yikes!)And don’t even get me started on the men’s ties. In any event, whatever “style” was or wasn’t back then, Publix seemed to have lots of it.
The 70’s were a period of strong growth for Publix despite the challenges affecting their industry at the time – massive fuel and other energy cost increases, food shortages, pressure from consumer advocacy groups and other factors. The company wrapped up the year 1972 with 174 stores and $678 million in sales. Ten years later, in 1982, Publix had 262 stores, racking up a very impressive $2.5 billion in sales for the year.
Part of this growth came from the addition of a large new market area for Publix. In 1971, the company reentered the Jacksonville area, some 12 years after a short lived single-store experiment there. This time they were here to stay, and within a year three stores were opened. The deepening energy crisis greatly affected the cost of shipping food from Publix’s Lakeland base to the Jacksonville stores, so it was decided to ramp up store construction there in order to gain a big enough store base to support a distribution hub, in effect making the region self-supporting. By 1974, 15 stores were in operation in the area, and that same year Publix opened its Jacksonville Distribution Center. Two years later, there were 27 stores in the division, enough to fire some loud shots across the bow of their largest competitor, Jacksonville-based Winn-Dixie Stores.
A trend that impacted all supermarket chains regardless of location or size was the rise of “consumerism”, a grass-roots movement whose goal was to draw attention to high food prices and force producers and retailers to look at ways to provide consumers some relief. In response to this, many chains dropped trading stamps and adopted an “everyday low price” (discount) format. Despite the proven, continuing strength of Publix’s S&H Green Stamps program (which with every passing year was looking like more of an isolated success), the company felt compelled to respond to this growing movement. Instead of tampering with a successful formula, Publix decided instead to introduce a second line of stores under a different banner – “Food World” would be the name, and discount pricing would rule the day. No trading stamps would be issued at Food World stores. Typically, the Food World stores were former Publix units converted to the new banner.
Discounting was a new, foreign venture for Publix, as longtime Publix manager Keith Marr mentions in his autobiography, entitled “Crossroads on Nebraska Avenue”. Marr, who under the supervision of another manager was placed in charge of the new store, a former Orlando Publix unit, recalls George Jenkins’ huge vote of confidence on the eve of the first Food World grand opening in September 1970 – “I don’t have any experience in discount merchandising, so you two are going to get it for me. I am giving you two a blank check to do whatever you feel you need to do to make this store do business. You run it the way you see fit”. The store, which in its last months as a Publix averaged $30,000 a week, sold $70,000 in its first week under the new banner and was doing nearly $100,000 a week within a year. Over the next decade, Publix would add 22 more Food World units, which by and large did very well, doubtless due in part to the wise selection of the actual stores to be converted to the new format. Interestingly, a Food World unit ended up being the site of an industry milestone – Lakeland’s Lake Miriam Square Food World, which opened in November 1977 (and was Publix’s largest store, ironically, at 57,000 square feet) was the first store in the Southeastern U.S. to feature electronic barcode scanning at its checkout counters, an area in which Publix would become known for leadership.
A completely different but no less important area of leadership was the company’s advertising, which was very distinctive by normal supermarket standards. In an arena where every square inch of newspaper ad space was crammed with text, scores of food item photos and a confusing mish-mash of incompatible typefaces and clutter, Publix ads had more in common with magazine advertising – only a few products featured per page, with lots of white space and consistent, high-quality graphics. Publix ads also tended to stress individual themes, with promotions ranging from meat specials to convenience foods, a relatively new focus meant to appeal to the fast-paced Florida leisure life. The Publix ads were masterful when it came to presenting the human side of their company, particularly as it related to their long-standing policy of closing on Sundays. “Over 24,000 Publix People don’t have to drive to work on Sunday” read one ad, which stressed the company’s concern for employees and the side benefit of emptier streets for the public. Although years later Publix would reverse this policy, the ad had a very favorable impact when it ran. Also, 1972 saw the introduction of the new Publix logo, featuring the now-famous stylized “P”, which replaced the handful of block-lettered logos the company had been using. This logo, of course, is still in use today.
Publix, led by founder and executive committee chairman George Jenkins, his brother, Publix board chairman Charles Jenkins, and president Joe Blanton, had long since attained “most admired company” status by the eve of the company’s golden anniversary in 1980. Even bigger things were to come. Thankfully, there would be less plaid.
The first seven photos, featuring the first “post-winged” prototype and several interior views, are Publix publicity photos from 1972. I’ve nicknamed the lady behind the bakery counter in the second photo “Gram”. Even though neither of my grandmothers resembled her in the slightest, she’ll always be Gram to me. The eighth photo, with the apple cider bottles visible up front, is a Sperry and Hutchinson (S&H) promo shot from around the same time, and the ninth and tenth photos showing a checker (the blue and yellow outfit was the company’s 70’s standard) and the bag boy (Son, why are you putting my groceries under the hood?) are from 1973. The last color photo, from 1976, shows the standard prototype store with the new Publix logo and typeface. Below is a photo of the first Food World store, an Orlando former Publix unit converted in 1970, as published in “The Publix Story”, a Newcomen Society booklet transcribing a 1978 speech by George Jenkins.