Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to appraise the spread of supermarkets in Canada during the mid‐twentieth century. It examines how corporate chains altered the organization of distribution, reconfigured shopping experiences, and promised gains realized through greater business volume. Design/methodology/approach – The paper utilizes a mix of primary and secondary sources to compare how companies responded to opportunities for mass marketing that emerged in the post‐war era. The perspective is grounded in the theory of managerial capitalism, which was originally elaborated by Alfred D. Chandler. Findings – The paper highlights how mass food retailing in Canada shared some attributes normally associated with the rise of managerial capitalism, but it also reviews the variations and highlights the difficulties faced by firms despite their jump to giant size. In particular, it stresses how the leading companies did not build secure positions. Research limitations/implications – Corporate archives in Canadian retailing either did not survive or remain inaccessible. The essay therefore draws upon a mix of sources including company publications and government investigations. The paper highlights the inability of companies to realize permanent gains commonly associated with large firm size or mass retailing. It stresses that there was no one “model” of corporate development. Originality/value – This paper illustrates the complexities associated with developing strategic leadership in retailing and therefore should be valuable to educators and practitioners.
Journal of Historical Research in Marketing – Emerald Publishing
Published: Aug 9, 2011
Keywords: Canada; Managerial capitalism; Retailing; Supermarkets; Consumption; Consumerism
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