Supermarkets Challenge Introduction of Supermarkets to Italy

Essay by ramirez.andres January 2005

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When I started my research on the arrival of mass marketing and mass distribution in Italy, my aim was to explain the origin of a peculiar phenomenon. Thousands of small shopkeepers were still the only traders in the 1950s, while supermarkets and department stores were already common in Europe and the United States. These small shops were usually run on a family basis, and they did not sell processed food or frozen products. Hence, there was a kind of "displacement" between the level of development enjoyed by the production industry and the backwardness of the retail trade world. The first supermarket in Italy finally opened in Milan in 1957, starting a rapid diffusion of the new sales systems. The International Basic Economy Corporation (IBEC), an American corporation based in New York and owned by Nelson A. Rockefeller, created that supermarket. Until my visit to the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC), I had been able to gather little information on the story or about the company's motivations and final results.

Newspapers and local archives were not particularly helpful. The documents I found at the Archive Center were fundamental to understanding what really happened at that time and to gaining a better insight into the beginnings of the mass market in Italy. Among the RAC collections the records relating to the IBEC story were especially interesting, as were the personal papers of Nelson A. Rockefeller, who closely

followed the whole IBEC experience in Italy. The Wayne G. Broehl papers also were very useful because they contained papers and documents collected by a professor at Dartmouth College who had written a book about IBEC in 1968 (The International Basic Economy Corporation. Washington, D.C.: International Planning Association, 1968). Here I found important evidence concerning the corporation's economic and financial status and...