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The history of Dutch supermarkets

Today supermarkets are an intrinsic part of modern daily life – those vast stores through which we steer our shopping trolley, carefully choosing from a mind-boggling variety of grocery products as we go, and finally paying for them at tills strategically located immediately before the exit. The first of these so-called ‘zelfbedieningszaken’ (self-service businesses) in the Netherlands didn’t actually open until after World War II and was initially met with a certain degree of trepidation by Dutch consumers. To find out more about the history of Dutch supermarkets, read on! 

Dutch supermarkets

The first Dutch supermarket

Prior to the arrival of supermarkets in the Netherlands, Dutch people typically did their shopping at the local grocery store. Employees stood behind a counter and waited to fetch and pack groceries for their customer upon request. Most of these products weren’t individually packaged, meaning that staff had to weigh each and every item, such as coffee, sugar and flour, before placing it into a paper bag. These old-fashioned grocery stores were not only labour intensive and thus expensive; but customers also had to wait an insufferable amount of time before their shopping was complete.

The concept of ‘self-service’ was introduced to the United States when store manager, Clarence Saunders, founded the Piggly Wiggly grocery store in 1916. The idea of customers collecting their own groceries was further expanded by Michael J. Cullen, who opened a large supermarket in 1930, complete with fresh food department and parking for customers. This successful supermarket formula was rapidly replicated outside of America, but it wasn’t until 1948 that Chris van Woerkom finally opened the very first self-service supermarket in the Netherlands, in the Dutch city of Nijmegen. During the fifties, however, more and more of these self-service supermarkets sprung up, and by the sixties the supermarket that we now know and love, selling meat and fresh produce, as well as dairy, baked, canned and packaged goods, was a standard feature in every Dutch town.

Modern Dutch supermarkets

You might be under the impression that supermarkets haven’t changed that much since their humble beginnings, but nothing could be further from the truth. Over the last twenty years in particular, an increasing number of Dutch supermarkets have begun to specialise and target specific customer groups. In large Dutch cities for example, you’ll find a selection of organic supermarkets, sustainable supermarkets, Surinamese supermarkets and even Turkish supermarkets. The Internet has also had an impact on supermarket shopping, and these days Dutch people are just as likely to order their groceries online, from the comfort of their own home. This is an especially welcome development for Dutch emigrants, who need no longer rely on family and friends to send their favourite products from the Netherlands, including Dutch liquorice, chocolate sprinkles, coffee, smoked sausage and pea soup. Indeed, no matter where they are in the world, Dutch people living abroad can simply log onto an online Dutch supermarket, such as Holland at Home, and place an order for rapid international delivery, straight to their very front door.

Prefer to read this article in Dutch? Then visit our sister blog, Heimwee.info, specifically intended for Dutch emigrants.

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