Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Supermarket change marks end of an era

4:00AM Tuesday Sep 22, 2009
By Beck Vass
The first Foodtown supermarket was opened by Tom Ah Chee in Great South Road, Otahuhu, in 1958. Photo / Supplied

* Grocer marks 50 years of ringing tills

The legacy of Foodtown - the small South Auckland supermarket that energised the grocery trade in Australasia - is set to become lost in a rebranding exercise that will see all Foodtown and Woolworths stores renamed as "new generation" Countdowns.

The first Foodtown, opened in Otahuhu by Tom Ah Chee on June 28, 1958, was the first American-style supermarket in New Zealand.

Mr Ah Chee's widow, Molly Ah Chee, could not be reached for comment yesterday but a family member said the rebranding marked the "end of an era".

The original Foodtown, owned by Mr Ah Chee and his friends Norman Kent, John Brown and Brian Picot, opened to so much excitement that traffic blocked the main road and the street was shut off. Radio announcers appealed to would-be customers to come back the next day, but that only attracted more interest.

The store, which also had the first automatic doors and air-conditioning, proved so popular that a second one was opened nearby in Takanini in 1961.

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By last year, 50 years later, New Zealand had more than 30 Foodtowns.

When Foodtown first opened, supermarket trolleys were a new concept. Specials included a 6lb (2.7kg) bag of Chelsea sugar for the equivalent of 49c, an 11oz bottle of Watties tomato sauce for 27c and toilet rolls for 14c.

A large package of Weet-Bix was 31c, a 26oz can of spaghetti was 20c and Choysa teabags (8oz) were 33c.

Eggs came in paper bags and boys took customers' shopping to their cars.

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