Cellophane, the New Visuality, and the Creation of Self-Service Food Retailing

42 Pages Posted: 25 May 2017

Date Written: May 24, 2017


This working paper examines how innovations in transparent packaging, specifically cellophane, in the mid-twentieth century United States helped retailers to create full self-service merchandising systems, including selling perishable food. While self-service stores began appearing in the late 1910s, self-service was initially applied only to grocery and dry goods, such as canned foods and a box of breakfast cereals. It was not until after World War II that the majority of American grocers adopted self-service to meat and produce sections. Business historians have explored the development of this self-service merchandising from the perspectives of marketing strategies, store operations, and relationships between customers and store clerks. However, the significance of the development of cellophane as a new packaging material, and the role of packaging manufacturers in promoting self-service, has yet to be analyzed. This working paper fills this void by showing that the expansion of self-service operation and the increasing use of transparent packaging had a significant impact not only on how consumers purchased foods but also on how they understood food quality.

Suggested Citation

Hisano, Ai, Cellophane, the New Visuality, and the Creation of Self-Service Food Retailing (May 24, 2017). Harvard Business School General Management Unit Working Paper No. 17-106, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2973544 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2973544

Ai Hisano (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics