An Ode to A&P, a Once-Proud Grocery Brand

The Sun Sets on a Chain With Personal Significance

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Not a lot of people get misty-eyed when a company goes into bankruptcy, but it happened to me when it became apparent that A&P will truly go away once and for all.

To many people, the A&P brand today probably signifies high prices and middle-of-the-road quality, but it wasn't always that way. In my childood it was the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. and it wasn't just another grocery store.

Just hearing the name conjures up visions of that distinctive steeple-top building and the smell of Eight O'Clock coffee being ground at the checkout stands. There was no custom bakery -- bread and rolls came courtesy of Jane Parker. Our carts were filled with canned goods from Ann Page. On Saturdays, I'd eagerly pick up the latest installment of Nancy Drew at A&P. And when we left, if I was lucky, I'd get to paste the Plaid Stamps in our book.

For me, A&P was more than just a place to pick up something for dinner; it put dinner on my family's table. My father began working there in 1942 and remained for nearly half a century and he ran the meat department, which was a pretty decent gig in the '70s as this old TV spot shows.

Three generations of my family worked at A&P – myself (in college), my son (in high school) and my dad. My sister met her husband there.

Brand loyalty came easy. When the discount chains that eventually helped grind A&P into the ground became popular in the '60s and '70s, dad wouldn't hear of us buying so much as a dozen eggs there, no matter how much less they cost.

They say labor was a factor bringing down A&P, but you couldn't find a better employee than my dad. He went to work in blinding snowstorms when the weathermen were advising people to stay home so others could get their bread and milk. And no personal plans could be made on the busiest day of the week. When my mom woke up in the hospital after an emergency operation she asked my dad what day it was. When he said Saturday she said, "Oh my God, If you are here I must be dying."

A&P struggled to keep up and it showed in the chain's marketing. The brand went from a place of "Price and Pride" to promoting itself as a place of continuous improvement.

This "Proud new feeling" spot from the big-hair era seemed almost apologetic.

And it was continually refurbishing stores, as this 1990 spot, from the "Look at us now" campaign shows.

But in the end, there just wasn't enough brand loyalty to sustain A&P against the likes of Walmart on the low end and Whole Foods on the high end. Maybe I'm the only one, but I'm sad to see an institution that had been around since 1860 become one for the marketing history books.

So I guess I'll go home and drown my sorrows in a cup of Eight O'Clock Coffee.

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