Abstracts - for the 8 September 2011

Food and Beverages: Retailing, Distribution and Consumption in Historical Perspective

Abstracts 10.00-11.00

Paul Cleave, University of Exeter, UK, ‘Twentieth century cafe society – eating out on holiday: a case study of Devon’

Food is a vital component of the tourism experience. This paper presents Devon, a county in the South West of England with a long history of food production and tourism as a case study. It aims to show how the provision of food for tourists ‘eating out’ has evolved through the 20th century. From tea room and cafe to Michelin Star restaurant and the celebrity chef commercial hospitality has made an important contribution to Devon’s tourism. 

The example of Deller’s, a family business will be used to demonstrate the significance of the cafe and restaurant in tourism. Starting as a food retailer, Deller’s Supply Stores established cafes in Paignton, Exeter and Taunton in the early 20th century. Deller’s Cafes provided genteel, elegant eating spaces, and good food, contributing to the social life of many holiday makers. A company brochure (c1925) describing a tour through Dellerland encouraged those travelling by car to stop at Deller’s cafes for their meals. They are  fondly recalled by those who visited them as more than a culinary legacy, a combination of ambience, service, and experience of place.

Utilising qualitative data derived from archival resources and in depth interviews it may be possible to discover more about the factors that contributed to their success in terms of, retail, distribution and consumption. Provincial and seaside cafes such as Deller’s (and those operated by Lyon’s, ABC and Cadena) appealed to the tourist market. They provided a treat, something special and sophisticated yet affordable, in contrast to rustic farmhouse and domestic hospitality provision.

From the 1970s market for ‘eating out’ on holiday changed. Fast food and nouvelle cuisine presented new styles of restaurant experience. More recently a return to independent restaurants and the interest in local food focuses on the creativity of the chef. However much can be learnt from the culinary experience of earlier decades.


Rengenier Rittersma, Saarland University, Germany, ‘Creating gastronomic celebrity: a case study on the role of the Piedmontese family Morra in the marketing of the white truffle of Alba (1930-1960)’

This paper will be based on the private archive of the family Morra and the local records of the town of Alba. This town, nowadays world famous for its white truffle, was once put on the map by the local restaurant owner Giacomo Morra (1899-1963). From the 1930s onwards, he systematically organised the annual Truffle Fair of Alba and intensified his promotion campaign after the Second World War, by presenting the most beautiful truffle of the season to celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Alfred Hitchcock, John F. Kennedy and President Truman, thus turning the local truffle into a gastronomic celebrity. In my paper (which will contain a lot of visual material, since the archive of the Morra family has a unique photo collection), I will focus on the socio-historical, semiotic, and political dimensions of 20th century consumption and lifestyle history which made the white truffle of Alba eventually world famous.


Josie Freear, University of Leeds, UK, ‘Marks and Spencer: a ‘revolutionary hygienic code’ in food supply, distribution and retailing?’

In his 1969 history of Marks and Spencer, Goronwy Rees proclaimed that through its research and development practices, the company had created an ‘almost revolutionary hygienic code’. Some evidence for such an assertion is provided by the influence of the company’s Hygiene Manual, published in 1949, which was heralded by the NHS and used to improve conditions on hospital wards across the country. However, little detailed research has been conducted to confirm or refute the notion that M&S has been at the forefront of setting hygienic standards in the food retailing industry. Furthermore, the importance of this ‘hygienic code’ in the wider context of the social history of food and networks of food supply, distribution and retailing has previously been overlooked.

This paper attempts to fill this gap in existing research. It will draw on the approaches of both business history, with particular reference to concepts of innovation and trust, and cultural and social history, including contemporary constructions of cleanliness. Through an exploration of these areas, this paper will begin to consider the importance of M&S’s hygienic code within the supply, distribution and retailing of food in Britain. It will use the records of the company’s food department, including papers of the food research unit and its director Nathan Goldenberg contained in the M&S archive. This documentation will be used to assess the role of the in-house research station and food development team in providing the scientific basis for innovative hygienic practices and cutting edge technologies. It will determine the extent to which M&S imposed these exacting hygienic standards upon supplier practices, thereby gaining control over food distribution from the supply end. Finally, consideration will be given to the distribution and retailing of food by analysing the way in which Marks and Spencer used their hygienic code to influence and shape consumer behaviour.


Fredrik Sandgren, Uppsala University, Sweden, ‘An easy sell? The introduction of a deep frozen food system in Sweden 1945-1970’

Deep frozen food was one of the most important technological developments when the distribution system was modernised and rationalised in the post WW2 era. While the technique of cold storage and transports was developed and used already in the late 19th century, the boom in consumption of deep frozen food relied on the development of a unbroken distribution chain of frozen food from the producer to the final consumer, and this development did not take place in earnest in Europe until the 1940s and 1950s.

Similar to the case of self-service Sweden was one the prime movers in Europe concerning the development of a system for deep frozen food. Pioneers such as Findus, producer of vegetables and berries, started production of deep frozen food already in the mid 1940s, while the major actors in the grocery trades started constructing cold stores in the late 1940s.

The real challenge was however to convince the retailers and the customers (both private and commercial) to adopt the new technique and the new products and ultimately to install freezing equipment in the stores and in their homes or in restaurants and canteens. This development was more gradual over the 1950s and 1960s, although there was an explosion of the consumption of deep frozen food in the 1950s.

Similar to the development of self-service in Sweden, a number of actors was involved in the lobbying for and also practical development of the system of deep frozen food. One important actor was the producers of equipment for deep frozen products. Other actors involved were of course the producers, wholesalers and retailers of deep frozen food. Trade associations such as the Bureau for Deep Freezing was linking all above actors with for instance the The Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, while also the trade associations of the retailers and wholesalers were active in the development process.

The aim of this paper is to study the Swedish discussion surrounding the system of deep frozen food 1945-1970. I will use journals and possibly also business archives from the actors involved in the discussion. The study will show what arguments for and possibly also against deep frozen food that was used in order to further the development of the system of deep frozen food in Sweden.



Dr Laura Ugolini

Room MC334

Tel: 01902 321890

Email: L.Ugolini@wlv.ac.uk