Piggly Wiggly

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Piggly Wiggly
Industry Supermarket chain
Founded Memphis, Tennessee, U.S. (1916)
Headquarters Keene, New Hampshire, U.S.
Area served
Midwestern/Southern U.S.
Parent C&S Wholesale Grocers
Website www.pigglywiggly.com

Piggly Wiggly is a supermarket chain operating in the Midwestern and Southern regions of the United States, run by Piggly Wiggly, LLC, an affiliate of C&S Wholesale Grocers.[1] Its first outlet opened in 1916 in Memphis, Tennessee, which is notable for having been the first true self-service grocery store, and the originator of various familiar supermarket features such as checkout stands, individual item price marking and shopping carts. The current company headquarters is in Keene, New Hampshire.[2] Currently, more than 600 independently owned Piggly Wiggly stores operate in 17 states, primarily in smaller cities and towns.

Piggly Wiggly operations in the U.S. as of 2014 (highlighted in blue and red)


Historical marker near the site of the first Piggly Wiggly store in Memphis, Tennessee.

Piggly Wiggly was the first true self-service grocery store.[3] It was founded on September 6, 1916, at 79 Jefferson Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, by Clarence Saunders. A replica of the original store has been constructed in the Memphis Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium, a mansion that Saunders built as his private residence, and was later sold to the city.

Piggly Wiggly Corporation secured the self-service format and issued franchises to hundreds of grocery retailers for the operation of its stores. The concept of the "self-serving store" was patented[4] by Saunders in 1917. Customers at Piggly Wiggly entered the store through a turnstile and walked through four aisles to view the store’s 605 items sold in packages and organized into departments. The customers selected merchandise as they continued through the maze to the cashier. Instantly, packaging and brand recognition became important to companies and consumers.

The original Piggly Wiggly Store, Memphis, Tennessee

Piggly Wiggly was the first to:

The success of Piggly Wiggly was phenomenal, so much so that other independent and chain grocery stores changed to self-service in the 1920s and 1930s. At its peak in 1932 (see Clarence Saunders), the company operated 2,660 stores and posted annual sales in excess of $180 million. In November 1922, Saunders attempted a squeeze on the substantial short interest in the stock, running the share price up from 40 to 120 and profiting by millions on paper. The Stock Exchange Governors responded by deciding that a corner had been established in Piggly Wiggly and removed the stock from the Board eventually forcing Saunders to turn over his assets to the banks that had financed his leveraged position. Saunders reputedly lost nine million dollars in the attempted corner.[7]

Following these events, the company was divided into strategic units and sold to regional grocery chains, including Kroger, Safeway, National Tea, and Colonial.[8] In 1935 all 179 Canadian Piggly Wiggly were also sold to Canada Safeway, which merged with Sobeys in 2013.[citation needed]

After losing control of Piggly Wiggly, Saunders had no further association with the company although he remained interested in the concept of automated shopping which he experimented with initially with the Keedoozle store until his death in 1953.[9]

The smaller Piggly Wiggly Corporation continued to prosper as franchiser for the hundreds of independently owned grocery stores licensed to do business under the Piggly Wiggly name. During the decades following the 1920s divestment, the company has operated successfully under a variety of owners.

Management of the Toyota Corporation were inspired by Piggly Wiggly's Just-in-time inventory strategy and used this model to develop its Toyota Production System (TPS), a philosophy by which the company organizes its manufacturing and logistics, including its interactions with suppliers and customers.[10]


According to the Piggly Wiggly website, Saunders was "reluctant" to explain the origin of the company's name. There are two theories:

One story says that, while riding a train, he looked out his window and saw several little pigs struggling to get under a fence, which prompted him to think of the rhyme. Someone once asked him why he had chosen such an unusual name for his organization, to which he replied, "So people will ask that very question."[9]

Present company[edit]

Fleming Companies bought Benson Wholesale, the owner of the Piggly Wiggly name, in 1978.[11] Fleming filed for bankruptcy in 2003, and C&S Wholesale Grocers acquired most of the business, including Piggly Wiggly.[12][13]

A Piggly Wiggly store in Owasso, Oklahoma in 2006

There are presently more than 600 independently owned and operated stores in 17 states. The company headquarters are located in Keene, New Hampshire.[9] Some of the stores have formed a retailers' cooperative to manage distribution, while using the Piggly Wiggly name (e.g., Piggly Wiggly Midwest, Piggly Wiggly Alabama Distributing Company, and Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co.). Piggly Wiggly stores are found predominantly in medium to smaller size cities, and remain a fixture in many rural communities. In many of the larger cities and more metropolitan areas within the company's territory (especially in the faster-growing regions), competitive national grocery chains have built larger supermarkets with greater variety and selection than Piggly Wiggly, targeting a more upscale clientele. In response, Piggly Wiggly has developed a loyalty card discount membership program similar to many other national merchants.

References in popular culture[edit]

A Piggly Wiggly store is featured in the 1989 movie Driving Miss Daisy.[14]

In the 2000 movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Delmar O'Donnel declares that all his sins have been washed away, including the Piggly Wiggly he knocked over in Yazoo.[15]

American rock band Green on Red referenced the Piggly Wiggly brand in the lyrics to their song "Zombie for Love", from their 1988 album Here Come the Snakes.[16]

In the 2001 film Pootie Tang, the main character has a magical belt that his father bought at a Piggly Wiggly for 95 cents.[17]

Quote from Reese Witherspoon's character, Melanie Carmichael, in the 2002 movie Sweet Home Alabama (to her husband, Jake): "You expect me to tell you look good? What, did they run out of soap at the Piggly Wiggly since I left?"[18]

In Mud (2012 film) the Piggly Wiggly is referenced as the local grocery store.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fleischauer, Eric (November 3, 2009). "2 Decatur Piggly Wigglys to become Food World stores". Decatur Daily. 
  2. ^ "Where It Began...". PigglyWiggly.com. Piggly Wiggly LLC. Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  3. ^ "See you at the Piggly Wiggly". Pink Palace Family of Museums. Archived from the original on 2007-10-14. Retrieved 2007-10-22. 
  4. ^ US patent 1242872, C. Saunders, "Self-serving store", issued 1917-10-09 
  5. ^ a b "Modern Marvels: The Supermarket". History Channel, first broadcast November 15, 2006.
  6. ^ "Shopping Carts Will Track Consumers’ Every Move". blogs.hbr.org. Retrieved 2015-09-03. 
  7. ^ "Business & Finance: Piggly Wiggly Man". Time. 1929-02-25. Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  8. ^ Lebhar, Godfrey M. (1959) Chain Stores in America 1859–1959, Colonial Press: 31.
  9. ^ a b c "Piggly Wiggly: About Us". Piggly Wiggly LLC. Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-10-22. 
  10. ^ Magee, David (November 2007), How Toyota Became #1 - Leadership Lessons from the World's Greatest Car Company, Portfolio Hardcover, ISBN 978-1-59184-179-1 
  11. ^ "Food Chains Bought by Fleming". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. March 12, 1974. Retrieved 2011-10-05. 
  12. ^ Hamstra, Mark (2003). "C&S Only Bidder for Fleming Assets, Some Resale Expected". Supermarket News. 
  13. ^ Zwiebach, Elliot (2003). "Wholesaler Exchange Boosts Both Operations". Supermarket News. 
  14. ^ "Image: Still-11.jpg, (475 × 532 px)". wwwdesignspongecom.c.presscdn.com. 2010-04-12. Retrieved 2015-09-03. 
  15. ^ "O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) - Quotes - IMDb". imdb.com. Retrieved 2015-09-03. 
  16. ^ Video on YouTube
  17. ^ "l bought it a Piggly Wiggly for 95 cents | Pootie Tang quotes". subzin.com. Retrieved 2015-09-03. 
  18. ^ "Sweet Home Alabama (2002) - Quotes - IMDb". imdb.com. Retrieved 2016-02-03. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Mike Freeman, Clarence Saunders and the Founding of Piggly Wiggly: The Rise & Fall of a Memphis Maverick (2011) excerpt

External links[edit]