A recreation I’ve made of a rare Australian contest poster of the 1950s.
The Four Square brand originally emerged from a grocers’ co-op, which was established based on the concern that competition from grocery chain stores in the New Zealand market place was making business very difficult for small, independent store operators. How much truth there is to this claim is dubious since at that period of time in the early 1920s, the only specific food chain that comes to mind that would have provided any serious competition was Self Help, also a co-operative, which I covered previously in a fairly brief and superficial article of May this year here.
J. T. Hammond’s Mangatoki Four Square with sign writing done by Jack Wood, probably 1930s. Courtesy of the Puke Ariki collection.
Between just 1922 and 1923, during the initial formation by the Auckland Master Grocers’ Association of what was soon to become Foodstuffs (NZ) Ltd, Self Help had gone from just one store to a string of seven which must have been a frightening concept for anyone in the field looking to the near future and their prospects within.
Logos through the decades, clockwise from left: mid-late 1920s, 1932, late 1950s-early 1960s, mid 1930s-early 1940s, unknown – probably late 1940s , and 1980. From the mid 1950s the logo has remained almost the same in colour and design. a
Although a small company named Fletcher’s can probably lay claim to being the very first “self-service” style enterprise in the history of New Zealand, it had probably fizzled out by the early twenties. However in 1919 Laidlaw Leeds, a very successful mail order company had acquired the Green and Colebrook chain to become Farmer’s Co-op and they opened their twenty-ninth store in 1921. Although a general department store, Farmer’s were marketing at least flour, tea and spices that I am aware of, but hardly specific competition, however – that may have been all it took.
Colouring book produced as a competition promotion in 1954. a
Since at the time the Self Help concept was a huge revelation in grocery shopping and pricing I can only conject that Foodstuffs (NZ) Ltd was formed in direct response to Self Help’s extremely sudden success within that narrow timeframe – having pushed the situation to the edge. This allegedly pertinent issue was raised by a man named John Heaton Barker – to Auckland’s main grocers’ association, in early July of 1922. The co-op became official when it formed a company – which was registered on 1st of April, 1925. It’s first contract was with Te Aroha Dairy Company to carry their “Arrow” brand butter. Co-operatives were also formed in Wellington (named United Buyers, the same year, 1922, which became the “4 Triangle” chain) and in Christchurch (1928, which was named the “AG Stores”) . By 1935 all these co-ops had already come under the Four Square brand but were now officially renamed branches of Foodstuffs Ltd.
Advertisement showing the white pepper and cornflour from their self line, Evening Post, March 1934 a
Seemingly well documented, the Foodstuffs legend goes that on the 4th of July 1924, two years into the co-op being formed, Barker, in position of company secretary at this time – was doodling on a pad during a telephone conversation with his colleagues and drew a square around the date. He presented this concept with the buoying manifesto that the group would stand ‘four square to all the winds that blew”.
Above: Four Square white pepper tin from my own collection. This design was in use during 1934-1935. Below, I’ve recreated the label.
It wasn’t long before the first logos for the brand were bumped into all the stores in the form of hand-painted glass signs, with products appearing under the moniker by the end of that year. A primitive version of the formal logos we know today were going up on stores by 1929, with 4 Triangle, and AG Stores becoming part of Four Square not long after in December 1933 – as well as another co-op which had been formed in Southland (but much later down the track, in 1948) . The distinctive colours, however, were not adopted until 1931 when on a field trip to view a particular store belonging to a Mr. McInnes, the initial tangerine and yellow scheme (with green added to it in the form of the logo) was requisitioned.
Promotional puzzle showing many of Four Square’s line of products circa late 1940s. Image courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Manuscripts and Pictorial collection. a
By the time the early thirties co-op merger had taken place (of which the date both Fairfax’s Business Hall of Fame profile as well as Foodstuff’s own history quote incorrectly), Four Square now boasted a total of 266 stores nationwide – what can only be described as an explosive success and had far outstripped even the phenomenal growth success of Self Help – and not even bothering to mention any other competition like McKenzies, Woolworths and Farmer’s which were semi- players at best in the burgeoning grocery market at the time. In 1935 the stores bearing Four Square signage were at 285. By the post war years food groceries bearing the Four Square name had shot up to nearly 400 and climbing quickly – 700 by 1950. By 1956 there were an amazing 1000 stores nationwide.
Promotional game produced in Australia, probably the mid 1960s. a
By some time in the 1950s Foodstuffs (NZ) Ltd had decided to hop the ditch to invade our Australian cousins, as my poster recreation at the head of this post, as well as the board game on road safety I have found above, attest. By 1980 a Happy Family promotion shows the logo for Australian chain CPS (Central Provision Stores), alongside Four Square and New World’s logos – having been added to the empire via Four Square Stores (Australia) Pty Ltd.
J. Heaton Barker’s new offices bringing everything together under one roof – Auckland Star, 8 October, 1925. a
Barker was one of two children of a family from Derby, Britain. Perhaps his father – mention is made of a John William Barker – stayed behind when he immigrated with his mother and sister in 1886; arriving in Wellington on 6th August aboard the S.S. Ionic. Perhaps he died, and they decided to leave. Whatever the story was, his mother was free to marry a Reverend John Crump seven years later. A devout Christian, J. H. Barker was seriously involved in the Baptist church throughout his life, particularly in Mount Eden, Auckland where he was an elder, and at various times a chair, treasurer, as well as president of the City Baptist Auxiliary.
Promotional Snap set featuring many popular products sold through Four Square stores; circa late 1950s-early 1960s. a
That was much later on in his life though; originally he settled in Nelson (where he was the facilitator of the PSA or “Pleasant Sunday Afternoon’ movement which had begun in Britain, was active in the Mutual Improvement Society, and on occasion stood in for his local pastor at the pulpit, was a member of council for the NZ Accountant’s and Auditor’s Association, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, and secretary of the Foreign and British Bible Society).
Promotional Snap set featuring many popular products sold through Four Square stores; circa late 1950s-early 1960s. a
More specifically he had spent time in Richmond to the south-west of the town where he was at one time or another secretary of the Richmond Lawn Tennis Club and also the Workingmen’s Club (I think at this point we can already establish that he was quite the busybody do-gooder). In 1896 he sold up and moved to a more central location in Bronte Street, Nelson.
In-store Disney promotion – Hutt News, December 1934. a
In an article entitled “Farewell to Mr. and Mrs. Barker” in the Nelson Evening Mail of 14th March, 1901, an interesting mention is made – of Barker’s “severing his connection with S. Kirkpatrick and Co., Ltd” in order to move. This was a popular foodstuffs company primarily famous for their jam, in particular the “K” brand, but ranged across a wide array of products from jelly crystals, canned meat and spices to coffee, poultry tonic, vinegar, honey and baking powder.
Triangle brand products – Evening Post, December 1933 . a
This is a very interesting detail to discover because Kirkpatrick play an intrinsic part in the corporate history of the canned food industry in New Zealand – passing through a number of owners and lasting into 1971 when it was finally dismantled by Wattie’s upon their acquisition of the brand and Nelson factory. In what capacity he worked for the firm is unknown (presumably accounting); but whatever it was he had achieved in just a few short years it was important enough for Mr. Kirkpatrick , the CEO himself, to attend in person and present Barker with a gold Albert fob chain for his services.
An unusual Four Square promotional chair which was auctioned recently. Photos © and courtesy of Trademe menber cache10 (Phil). a
He moved with his wife Mattie and eight offspring to Wellington in 1902 (where he was president of the city’s Sunday School Union, president of the Sunday School Teacher’s Association, vice-president of the YMCA Cricket Club, vice-president of the Gregg Shorthand Association, and prone to giving rousing public speeches on the gospel everywhere he could, it seems).
Four Square’s self line of preserving jar skins probably date from the 1950s or early 1960s. From my personal collection. a
In 1907 we find him managing director of Messrs. Yerox, Barker and Finlay, Ltd., a company primarily moving cash registers and typewriters. In 1908 he moved to directing the interests of the National Cash Register Co in New Zealand at 17-19 Cuba Street – and in 1911 he gained inches of press when he invented an automated telegram sorting and stamping machine, which was subsequently installed in Wellington’s General Post Office. Following that the family relocated to Auckland in 1912 (where he had a spell as a director on the board of the Auckland YMCA, and led Baptist services at various church venues).
Rare canisters issued for the Southland Four Square Co-op’s general area centennial of 1956 crop up at auction very occasionally to be bid on competitively. a
Presumably he eventually became somehow involved in the grocery industry to bring him into the relative picture; A newspaper article of 1924, in which he is called to give testimony in a case to do with milling industry price fixing, defines him as the Auckland secretary of the New Zealand Master Baker’s association, as well as the editor of their magazine “Baker’s Review” since 1920 (he remained secretary until 1930 when he stood down voluntarily).
George Allen and staff in the Dominion Road Four Square store, Auckland, late 1940s. Photo © and courtesy of the estate of George Allen. a
Clearly from the court report he was a significant player in the supply and demand of flour and other goods for some years. Quite frankly I was surprised to find a dearth of biographical information on a major player in New Zealand industry; One of his children grew up to become well-known newspaper editor and politician Sir Harry Heaton Barker – and much more is written of his long term mayor son. Certainly at this point with his various experiences in foodstuffs, accounting, sales, administration and a clear talent for creative invention – he had everything he needed to take things to a spectacular new level.
Advertisement showing the custard powder and tea from their self line, Auckland Star, 11 April, 1935. a
Barker, as well as also being secretary, accountant and auditor of the NZ Master Grocer’s Association – ran the Auckland branch of the food co-op from its inception until 1934 when he became director of Foodstuffs (NZ) Ltd – a position he remained in until 1947 when he passed away. In 1932 he was made a life member of the New Zealand Master Grocer’s Federation, of which he had been secretary since 1923.
Four Square brochure of 1977 showing product specials to celebrate the 21st anniversary of Four Square in Otago/Southland. Image courtesy of the Foodstuffs (NZ) Archive. a
He also launched an industry magazine, “Grocers’ Review” in the early 1920s – which later seems to have joined forces with the milling industry and amalgamated his previous work there to become “New Zealand Grocer’s and Baker’s Review“. Sources seem to indicate that this version wrapped up in 1939; what I have seen from the Foodstuffs Ltd archive (I was lucky enough to get an insider peek at their collection courtesy of a food technician friend who is part of the team, and loves retro stuff herself) show two images of a “New Zealand Grocergram” magazine so presumably that became it’s moniker. Last reference to it in public collections is in 1974 -1975 however AdMedia ran an article in 2003 that it was being revamped. Current status is unknown, with the website down – but presumably it is still running – if so making it one of the longest running periodicals in the history of the country.
Waxed cardboard pot for Four Square’s self line of honey from the Christchurch Co-op, circa mid 1970s. a
By the mid 1930s Four Square had under its own line tea, honey, culinary essences, Worcester and tomato sauces, cornflour, macaroni and vermicelli, custard powder, malt extract, butter, coffee essence, spices, salt and pepper, canned fruit, and raisins. There was also jellies, candles, soap and toilet paper under the “Triangle” brand. Later boxed chocolates, vinegar, and cordials were added (1940s) as well as mixed dried fruit, preserving equipment, and “Rawakelle“; their brand of tea that was in the 1950s and 1960s quite popular with the public.
Front of cardboard box for Four Square’s self line of dried cake fruit from the Foodstuffs archive collection, probably early 1960s. a
Starting with baking powder – and then a few years following custard powder – “Pam’s” was launched by Four Square Stores in 1937 to offer lower price, quality goods that competed even more vigorously with opposing chain’s lower price bracket products. Although there were several “self” lines from other stores at the time, “Pam’s” has stood alone, lasted into the present day as a “private” brand, probably the only surviving one. I previously documented my recreation of the first Pam’s marketing campaign/product label when I wrote about agency Dormer-Beck, who were behind it, here.
Advertisement announcing merger of 4 Triangle and AG Stores under the Four Square brand, making a total of 266 stores. Evening Post, December 1933. the co-ops changed their names to Foodstuffs two years later in 1935. a
“Mr. Four Square” , who has also come to be known as “Cheeky Charlie“, was a welcoming storeman figure with a big thumbs up – yet to many he always had a slightly imposing, sinister air about him (he looks like the type of guy that if you were left alone in the store room with him he might try to cop a feel). The mascot was developed sometime in the 1950s for print advertising initially – although the exact date and who the specific the creator of the character was, is unclear – one source quotes the Foodstuffs advertising department as responsible. Another states it was a son of J.H. Barker’s who came up with the concept around 1951.
A corruption of monopoly with products instead of property, Milton Bradley-produced “Checkout” in 1959. They also did a version for the Acme chain of stores in the USA. a
He is often mistakenly attributed to renowned Kiwi pop artist Dick Frizzell who was a commercial artist in the 1960s and 1970s, but this is incorrect. Frizzell was, however, involved with the iconic Ches and Dale characters, and the fact that he has used Charlie in some of his most famous art works only adds to the confusion.
Promotional Happy Families set featuring many popular products sold through Four Square stores, New World and CPS stores (Central Provision Stores, Australia); circa 1980. a
Another well-known contemporary artist Mike Weston, who coincidentally partners with Frizzell’s son Otis to produce humorous Kiwiana-inspired works under the moniker Weston-Frizzell, seems to recall hearing that Charlie was “allegedly a knock off of a Santa Monica supermarket character from the fifties called “Freddy Fireside” – of the Fireside Market. Although I’m still looking for evidence” . I myself was also unable to find any information to even hint at this.Today when people think of the brand they definitely think of Charlie beaming at them from shop windows and hoardings so, although a rather overused word -he has definitely become a New Zealand icon (with a few modernised features). Extremely collectable now, original Mr. Four Square cut-out signage old or newish – sells for competitive prices well into the hundreds and sometimes even the thousands.
Interior of the Dominion Road Four Square store, Auckland, late 1940s. Photo © and courtesy of the estate of George Allen. a
Quite a few different items have been issued to promote the business over the years. Snap and Happy Family card sets were produced featuring their most popular product lines in the late 1950s-early 1960s, and another Happy Families set of 52 cards in around 1980 from which many of my age group will remember all the products – I featured some of them here, here, and here.
Four Square’s warehouse opens in Southland, 1956. Image courtesy of the Foodstuffs (NZ) Archive.
Other fun items to rope in the punters and strengthen allegiance to the business were a puzzle (late 1940s), a board game with Milton Bradley – “Checkout”, around 1959. a highly desirable colouring book “Fine Things of the Future” (1954), calendars (1950s-1960s), a stamp collecting book. Recipe/household hint books such as “Homeways” was published in the late 1960s, and “Take A Tip” of the early 1970s. A cast metal can opener was issued as a complimentary gift to customers. Very rarely the hard-to-get canisters issued for the Southland Co-op’s general area centennial of 1956 crop up at auction to be bid on feverishly; and not so long ago even a very unusual Four Square chair.
Foodstuff’s former cut-price – now “private” – brand Pam’s started in 1937 with one product; baking powder. Photo courtesy of and © Eriq Quaadgrass, eRIQ on Flickr. a
Icon Products, who partner with Four Square as well as several other brands , currently hold a license for the Cheeky Charlie character, producing aprons, shirts, tea towels and carry bags – which have been marketed through another Foodstuffs enterprise – New World supermarkets – established at the end of 1963 (the same year that Woolworths rolled out their first dedicated food store Food Fair, a New Zealand first at New Lynn).
This classic version cut-out Cheeky Charlie signage just sold recently for around the $1000 mark or a little over. a
Although significantly less than in their heyday – today Four Square stores in New Zealand remain as 300 plus independent operators as well as a few still dotted about Australia. It is one of very few companies that has ever reversed the usual trans-Tasman power play of brands being foisted on the comparatively tiny country and marketplace of Aotearoa. Even Ozzie brands like the re-tooled IGA still can’t usurp the sheer power in numbers, well – yet, anyway.
A modern store in Waitarere using the classic Four Square colour scheme to the maximum effect; with the newest version of Cheeky Charlie, said to have been “made over” by Dick Frizzell at Foodstuff’s request recently. Photo courtesy of and © Kiwi Frenzy on Flickr. a
Foodstuffs (NZ) Ltd is still comprised of three co-ops and has grown to include a slew of chain brands in its portfolio including aforementioned New World, Pak ‘N’ Save (established 1985), Write Price, On The Spot, Shop Rite, Raeward Fresh, Liquorland and Henry’s, Budget, Pam’s, and of course Four Square (and that’s just the food and drink enterprises) making it the largest retail organisation in New Zealand to date.
Contemporary Four Square store and staff. Photo courtesy of and © the Foodstuffs (NZ) Archive. a
You have to wonder if Barker, whilst scribbling on his calendar absent-mindedly that day, ever in his wildest dreams could have comprehended he was launching an empire worth more than four billion dollars per annum.
Neither the classic or contemporary version of Mr. Four Square -this was the in-between version with a few new touches in the 1990s-2000s. Photo of Cheeky Charlie on left courtesy of and © emilyandadam on Flickr. Image of modern Four Square logo graphics on right courtesy of and © the Foodstuffs (NZ) Archive. a
The Four Square Contest Poster is available from my online store here , as well as greeting cards for a nominal price.
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