The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) showed that relying on massive scale could push down prices while running a company profitably.
Relying on low prices A&P expanded rapidly. Early A&P stores were full-service. Shoppers, who typically arrived on foot to the neighborhood stores, would tell grocers what they wanted, and the grocers would remove it from shelves or a limited cold storage area. A&P pioneered the use of private label goods, purchasing entire shiploads of tea or trainloads of fruit, packaging the goods into their own containers, and selling it at their stores.
During WWI A&P sputtered as the US government commandeered food and transport dealing a setback but, after the war, A&P continued to expand. By 1930 A&P was the world’s largest retailer. At one point there were just under 16,000 stores.
In 1946, the US Dept. of Justice used anti-collusion and market protection rules to convict the company of selling food too cheaply. By the 1950’s others started to open more modern and larger stores (A&P evolved into what today we call grocery stores later in its lifecycle).
Over time, A&P failed to keep pace. Their “professional” grocers did not like the self-serve enormous supermarkets. They had a large number of small stores but, over time, lower volume than the larger retailers.
After a long decline and two bankruptcies all stores were shuttered Dec. 1, 2015. By 2018 even the old A&P website is defunct.
While A&P thrived, they did so by continually recreating their stores.