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Product Puzzle: UNA and the Grocers United Stores

In Associated Wholesalers Ltd (AWL), Baking Powder, Chapman Bros, Countdown supermarkets, Dollarwise supermarkets, Family Fare convenience stores, Foodmaster convenience stores, G.U.S. Stores, G.U.S. Wholessaling, Grocer's United Stores, IGA Stores, Independent Grocers Alliance NZ Ltd, J. B. Rattray, Jellishus Jelly Crystals, Magnum Corporation, Pricecutter supermarkets, Progressive Enterprises, Rattray & Sons Ltd teas, Rothman Industries (NZ), Super 7 supermarkets, Super Value Supermarket Group, Super Value supermarkets, Target Stores, UNA brand, Uncategorized, Woolworth's supermarkets, Woolworths on August 30, 2012 at 10.46

With a little help from fellow foodstuffs freak Mike Davidson, who recently uncovered a rare cookbook brochure and asked me what I knew about it, I have been able to find out a bit more about the South Island enterprise “G U.S.” , the Grocer’s United Stores – which were quite a large chain of stores in New Zealand in the late 1920s to the 1950s (that I am aware of) – and subsequently link it to my story recently on IGA, which almost asked more questions than it gave answers:

https://longwhitekid.wordpress.com/2012/06/10/the-shopping-cart-cartel-iga-stores/

Top: recreation of a UNA brand baking powder label from a photo of an old can, above. The tin likely dates from the late 1930s- early 1940s.
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The only item that I had ever seen thus far at auction was a baking powder tin for the “UNA” label, which cropped up last year in a lot of old household tins, and was G.U.S. Wholesaling’s self brand. I have recreated it here.

Grocers United Stores recipe book, image courtesy of Mike Davidson collection.
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I have records in my database that in the 1930s – jelly crystals, tea, coffee, canned fruits, vinegar ,cocoa, cornflour and fly bands (which I think are some kind of fishing weights), medicines (non-specific, and possibly referring to a line including) cod liver oil, were being produced under the UNA label.

Intelligent and painstaking: Ellesmere Guardian, July 1940.
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By the early 1940s the UNA range also comprised of custard powder, baking powder, cooking oil, jam including home-made orange marmalade, lemon marmalade and lemon honey, olive oil, chocolate cake filling, coffee essence, soap, fly reels, salt, honey, floor polish, canned peas, “Six-In-One” skin lotion, tomato sauce, lino polish, Spanish cream, instant chocolate custard, and an exotic sounding instant dessert named “Sno Foam”. Cornflour , jelly crystals, honey, and biscuits of several varieties, were simultaneously marketed under the G U.S. brand in the 1940s. “Jellishus” was another brand of jelly crystals produced by the company at that time.

IGA truck being loaded and secured for delivery, showing G.U.S. Wholesaling details on it. Probably early 1960s. Christchurch City Library collection, ref HW10-Ho-137
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G.U.S. was launched in 1928 as a co-op (given that every store remained privately owned and the proprietor intensely vetted before being signed up) by E.F. and S. J. Chapman; and very quickly they had built up 15 stores. By 1948 that had multiplied to a very impressive 167 stores. Still, way behind the Self Help chain and – especially Four Square, which I covered in this article here

https://longwhitekid.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/power-outlet-the-force-of-four-square-and-foodstuffs-nz-ltd/

It is true they had been left in the dust by both of those other co-ops come the late 1940s, yet somehow G.U.S. was very able to compete and build their organisation against those two industry giants over the decades – in particular Foodstuffs (Christchurch) Ltd which was successful enough during this period to finally bite the bullet and open a massive Southland warehouse in 1956. So although G.U.S. Stores are truly forgotten now, it’s quite likely that they were in actual fact the third largest chain of grocery co-op stores in New Zealand in the first two thirds of the twentieth century.

G.U.S. store on corner of Welles and Manchester streets, Christchurch city. This looks like it was taken in the 1930s, and the supermarket remained until the 1960s when it moved to Chappie Place, Hornby. Christchurch City Library collection, ref HW10-Ho-135
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To bolster their success in the 1930s, the Chapman brothers also launched a chain of stores named “Target” (no relation to the international department store chain of today), again a co-op made up of individual private owners, with the slogan “where the housewife scores!” Although not grocery orientated per se, this was dependant on the nature of the individual business – but they were more akin to the modus operandi of Woolworths, MacDuffs and McKenzies during that period – with a focus on household items as well as decorative gewgaws. Again had their own self line including butter. I had seen a picture in one of Richard Wolfe’s books and always wondered about this mysterious chain over the years; now I have stumbled over the link via the UNA tea advert I have posted here, I know.

1934 Grocers United company Picnic, Amberley Park. The use of the IGA letterhead indicates that the Hawkins shops were once upon a time G.U.S. stores. Christchurch City Library collection, ref HW10-Ho-134
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Somehow I missed a bunch of material whilst researching my IGA story a short while back which would have told me, as it turns out, that IGA (Independent Grocers Alliance NZ Ltd) was launched in New Zealand under the umbrella of G.U.S. Wholesaling, so I imagine that although there were probably a lot of new shops created, most of the stores that were part of Grocers United Stores may also have been re-branded to IGA.

The trend of the day may have been IGA, but this delivery truck still has G.U.S. details on the cab; probably late 1950s. Christchurch City Library collection, ref HW10-Ho-136
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Eventually, as the decades passed, all the stores under the G.U.S. banner were split across a few chain brands: SuperValue (around as far back as the late 1960s that I know of), Dollarwise, Pricecutter, IGA and Super 7  convenience stores (all still have branches open as far as I can see), while G.U.S. Wholesaling became known as the “Super Value Supermarket Group“.

This map shows locations of Grocers United Stores in 1948. image courtesy of Mike Davidson collection.
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The J.B. Rattray Group , who got their start in teas – particularly three very successful brands: Tiger (1890s-1980s), Gold Leaf (1890s-1930s), and Edglets (post 1940s), and established the very successful Countdown supernmarkets in 1981 – purchased the Super Value group in 1991.

Some of the UNA brand line, advertised in the Ellesmere Guardian, September 1943.
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In Alistair Pringle’s “New Worlds and Fresh Choices?” he writes : “Through its subsidiary J.B. Rattray, Magnum (Enterprises) first purchased the former Woolworths-owned, Auckland-based Associated Wholesalers Ltd (AWL)…(acquiring) seven North Island warehouses and 130 independently owned Foodmaster and Family Fare convenience stores”. This apparently occurred in 1992. Since the Super Value Supermarket Group merged with Woolworths in 1979, according to another source, presumably this was included in the deal along with the five brands I mentioned above.

A Chapman Bros’s Target Store, probably snapped in the mid 1930s. Image courtesy of Richard Wolfe and Stephen Barnett’s book “New Zealand: In Praise of Kiwiana”, 1989.
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Magnum Corporation were the owners of  Rothman Industries (NZ) at the time and acquired Rattray in the mid 1980s as a subsidiary part of Rothman. They went on to gobble up Progressive Enterprises also (which included Foodtown, Three Guys, and Georgie Pie).

Advert for Target Stores from the Ellesmere Guardian, March 1934.
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Yeah, and then there were some more mergers, acquisitions and takeovers which I could go on about, but I am going to call it a day. It’s so convoluted it’s like a set of Babushka Dolls with enterprises that fit one inside the other, inside another one – until it becomes completely confusing to the layman.

Advert for UNA brand tea for the Ellesmere Guardian, November 1933, shows reference to both G.U.S. “United” stores as well as “Target”.
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My conjecture is that – while the actual company retained the G.U.S. name, the brand had disappeared by the late 1950s, subsumed by the glitzier American offering of IGA. which in the post-war years held fresh appeal for consumers obsessed with Yankee-style convenience – over fusty personal service all wrapped up in a plain brown paper wrapper, and trussed up in string.

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Branded with a K: Kirkpatrick’s Canny Colossus

In "K", "K" Brand, Anderson & Son coffee and spices, Butland Industries, Canned Goods, Centennial Kirkpatrick House, Crest Fine Foods, David Owers coffee and spices, Denniston and Co, Duryea's Maizena, Faulding's, Frimley Foods, Frimley Fruit Canning Works, Heinz Watties, Henderson Sweets, Henry Jones Co-op Ltd, Imperial jam, IXL brand, jam, James Stedman, John Heaton Barker, Jumbo Baking Powder, Kirkpatrick, Nelson Jam and Fruit Processing Company, Playtime jam, Samuel Kirkpatrick, Sweetacres, The Nelson Fish Company, Thompson & Hill, Unilever, Wattie Cannery Ltd, Wattie's, Wheatena on August 17, 2012 at 10.46

It has taken me months on and off to find the material and finish off this recreation of a “K” jam label from a photo. Creating the fruit illustration was complicated and difficult. I believe it dates from the late 1920s- early 1930s.
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“K” brand was one of the longest lasting, and most popular product lines to come out of New Zealand. You probably haven’t heard of it, and it is true that it has been long forgotten since it shut up shop at the beginning of the 1970s – but it lasted ninety years in the cupboards and on the tables of Kiwi households.

A later version of the label above, probably late 1940s-early 1950s era. Photo courtesy of  Trade Me member Shakaya. 
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S. Kirkpatrick & Company was established in Nelson, “the fruit, hops and flower garden of New Zealand”, in 1881 where it came to be the most important business in the district – as its major employer. The firm’s biggest enterprise was jam, and following that canned fruit, vegetables and meat, and such was its impact – that it had a marked effect on the geographical nature of agriculture in the region, as well as other industries such as fishing. The business was quickly producing 1,000 units a day using up all those tons of pesky wasted fruit that local producers just couldn’t offload. It wasn’t long before the ‘K’ Brand of jam in its colourful label was recognised throughout Australasia.

Custard Powder and Egg Powder, Nelson Evening Mail, June 1905.
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Samuel Kirkpatrick was born in County Down, Ireland, between 1853 and 1854, where he went to school in Newry. After graduating from Walton College, Liverpool he spent five years with a wholesale food merchant learning the ropes. Kirkpatrick then emigrated to the U.S. for some years – working for tea wholesalers in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In 1876 his entree to future success came with his removal to California where he worked in two large fruit canneries in San Francisco (in what capacity this work was exactly, I am unsure).

Teenage workers stir jam pans inside the “K” Factory. Image courtesy of Nelson Provincial Museum, F. N. Jones Collection, Reference 6×8 29
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Sources seem to differ on the date – but it seems Kirkpatrick probably arrived in New Zealand in 1878 and worked as a travelling salesperson for merchants and commission agents Renshaw, Denniston and Co, in Dunedin, through 1879. They sold farming equipment such as reapers and binders , as well as more workaday items from cornsacks to paint and wire. They were also agents for various loans, marine and fire insurance (the partnership dissolved by March 1880).

S. Kirkpatrick and Co. Ltd business letterhead, Courtesy of the Hocken Archives and Manuscripts collection, ref UN-023/144
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However Kirkpatrick, with his experience in agency, sales, foodstuffs and the canning industry together had his sights set higher. He could see the raw potential of the Nelson area with it’s ideal fruit-growing temperament – and it wasn’t long before he contacted a group he had heard had a similar idea and were investigating the establishment of a fruit processing plant in the area.

“K” multi-purpose canned meat label, circa 1900. Image courtesy of the Printed Ephemera Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref Eph-F-MEAT-Gear-130
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Kirkpatrick became not only a significant shareholder, but struck a deal to manage what was to be known as the Nelson Jam and Fruit Processing Company. He leased a former textile mill in Bridge Street as premises, from the Webley Brothers who had a company named ” Webley’s Nelson Cloth“. They had gone out of business due to competition amongst manufacturers and Kirkpatrick emptied the buildings offloading all the equipment to Kaiapoi Woollen Mills. Supposedly this occurred in 1876, but I’m guessing the date quoted is wrong, since firstly Kirkpatrick was documented working in the U.S. at the time, and also RD & Co were advertising sub-agent positions in 1878 – so that data seems to back up that he started working for them then – and not earlier.

He returned to Britain the following year to arrange the shipment of an entire canning plant to set up in the new factory . He brought back with him his aunt , and his mother who was now widowed.
From the 1880s a large variety of jams, conserves, jellies and marmalades were produced in 1 pound and 2 pound stone jars. They also produced the preserves in glass jars, perhaps a bit later on. In the 1890s preserves were also available in 1lb, 2lb, and 7lb tins and they added that Kiwi classic lemon cheese to the roster. They were also marketing coffee under their own company moniker – although generally they were using the “K” label for almost everything at this point.

“K” marmalade advert, New Zealand Illustrated Magazine, August 1903

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Production had doubled by 1896, and the current factory buildings now being insufficient to cope with demand, Kirkpatrick purchased land at the corner of Gloucester and Vanguard streets for a new factory – in which he installed the most modern and efficient machinery and fittings of the time. His marriage of this same year lasted a very short time when his wife died from Tuberculosis by 1899. However at this point he was buried in work – with significant expansion of the buildings constructed to accommodate rapid growth, the company now had “the largest wooden building in the colony” and its own can making and printing plants – each can that came out of the factory was made and labelled by hand. Eventually the premises covered about 30,000 square feet.

“K ” Brand jam jar, date unknown – I am guessing 1920s. Photo courtesy of the Mataura & Districts Historical Society Incorporated collection.
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The company now branched out into coffee under the ” K” brand as well as spices – having bought the business of Anderson & Son, Wellington. “Jumbo” was a Kirkpatrick baking powder label of the 1900s that was acquired as part of the package with the Anderson transaction – who had previously sold the patent, trademark, and all the machinery to a coffee and spice merchant David Owers of Timaru in 1893. Somehow it made its way back to the original owners who sweetened the deal by including it, however even though heavily advertised by the end of the decade it seems to have been dropped from the list of products.

 Competition campaign by the Charles Haines agency, Hawera & Normanby Star, March 1923

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The business continued to grow rapidly and by 1901 the factory was employing 60 individuals full-time just in the off-season – and double during the busy period. Kirkpatrick had a concern not only with hygiene, but with good working conditions for his employees – which earned him great respect. “It is an interesting sight to see thirty or forty girls, neatly dressed, and in harmony with the general cleanliness of the whole establishment, picking and sorting the fruit with a quickness, which to the uninitiated must seem incredible. A happy feeling evidently exists between the girls and their employer, to judge by the contented faces the visitor sees around him”.
Kirkpatrick was described as a neat and “dapper man with a retiring disposition”. However for all his concern of his workers and their comfort – as well as his receding temperament it seems he was near in matters of quite insignificant things, and had no hesitation to voice his concerns; There is a letter in existence from Kirkpatrick written in 1917 when he was no doubt already rich. He writes to a handkerchief company complaining that there were only eleven handkerchiefs in the pack of twelve that he purchased and could they please reimburse him or replace the missing one.

Advertising for various “K ” products, date unknown but likely late 1890s-early 1900s. Note missing text which probably said “your grocer sells them.”
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Now with a large range of preserves, canned fruits, vegetables and meats (including pig’s feet in jelly, lobster, brawn, Irish Stew, ox and sheep tongue, Scotch haggis, boiled fowl, and curried rabbit to name a few) – In the decade of the 1900s the product range expanded in a massive way as follows: fruit mincemeat, honey, raspberry and table vinegar, pie fruits, poultry tonic, salad cream, tomato sauce, “K” Sauce, mushroom ketchup, pickles, condiments, curry powder, custard powder (six flavours), baking powder and egg powder, bird seed, Wheatena (presumably a product similar to Maizena and Creamota, to be used for both cooking and breakfast cereal) plum puddings, potted meats, ground rice, pea flour , pea meal and wheatmeal, linseed, arrowroot, spiced sausage flour, icing and castor sugar, desiccated coconut, cream of tartar, bicarbonate soda, citric and tartaric acid, carbonated ammonia, starch glaze, pickling spice, beef tea, dried herbs, hops, pickles, and boracic acid. “New lines are constantly being added”, noted an article of 1906, – such as gravy browning and tomato chutney in the 1910s.

Jumbo was a short-lived Kirkpatrick foray that had been around for a decade with two previous owners, before it came into their possession. From the Nelson Evening Mail, August 1900
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Kirkpatrick & Co. also acted as agents for a variety of international products such as Nestlé, Peters, and Kohler’s chocolates, Henderson’s sweets by  James Stedman of Sydney (later better known as Sweetacres) as well as Faulding’s products like eucalyptus extract., cloudy ammonia, and olive oil.

Another children’s competition campaign of 1922, again by Kirkpatrick’s preferred advertising agency – Haines.
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In 1904 Kirkpatrick acquired The Nelson Fish Company – a producer of smoked, chilled and frozen fish which was packed in pumice and sent far and wide. In prime position on the edge of the Nelson harbour, the large, hygienic white premises also did a roaring trade in ice.

The “K” Factory,  October 1900 from the Auckland Weekly News. Courtesy of Auckland Council Heritage Images, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19001012-4-6
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Now in its heydays, the Kirkpatrick enterprise was during this period apparently the biggest canning and jam factory in Australia and New Zealand combined.

“K” spag with cheese had been around since at least the 1930s, but these  probably date from the early 1950s era. Photo courtesy of Trade Me member Shakaya.
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Kirkpatrick in his spare time was quite the sports enthusiast with a particular fondness for the game of hockey, and eventually became president of the Nelson Association. In 1924 he founded and first presented the silver ‘K’ Cup as the trophy for women’s hockey. He was a Freemason and held the rank of deputy grand master of the District Grand Lodge of Westland and Nelson. Like many foodstuffs industry bigwigs such as Barker (Four Square) and Dustin (Buttermaid), who found that wider power came with industrial clout – he also stepped into the public eye via favoured community organisations, and inevitably into the more political arena serving a term as a city councillor from 1898.

“K” advertising blotters issued in 1925. Original photo used for composite is courtesy of Graham Bulman.
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He died in 1925 and the Henry Jones Co-op Ltd purchased the company (an Australian company founded by Henry Michael Jones, famous for the IXL brand which also had with an extensive range of food processing plants in New Zealand cities as well as Tasmania and Melbourne). In 1913, Kirkpatrick had made a grab for the financially-troubled Frimley brand so this was also part of the takeover. At some point in the late 1930s it was passed from Henry Jones to Wattie’s – one of their earliest acquisitions – if not the first in a long list of brands they snapped up to eventually become number one. I covered the Frimley brand in brief here :

https://longwhitekid.wordpress.com/2011/06/26/saucing-material/

The “K” Factory in October 1964, just after news of the Wattie’s takeover. From the Nelson Photo News. Photo courtesy of the Friends of the Nelson Library Inc.
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In the 1920s ads for tomato soup, Xmas puddings and a product named “Musto” (a spice base mix for making piccalilli and chow chow, later made by Trent’s, The NZ Coffee and Spice Co Ltd,  under their Good Cook line) appear in newspapers as well as on other advertising like blotters. The 1930s saw canned spaghetti in tomato sauce, or with added cheese; baked beans, vegetable soup, and that good old depression staple pork & beans. Things took a more exotic turn with loganberries, dessert raspberries, and diced fruit salad on offer. By this time fruit and vegetable products on sale under the “K” label were in the dozens.

Famous Wellington grocery store and delicatessen Fuller-Fulton advertising Kirkpatrick Soups. Evening Post, June 1935
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“Imperial” was a subsidiary brand trademarked in 1909 and lasted well into the 1930s. Although it was registered to cover just about every category of product under “K”, it seems it may only have ever been produced as canned jam. Still – it was around for a good quarter century so can be deemed successful.

IGA stores advertising, circa late 1950s-early 1960s.
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According to IPONZ, It seems as if the Crest brand (almost unknown now, but during the 1950s it was in fact far bigger than Wattie’s) also came under the auspices of Kirkpatrick & Co while it was under ownership of  the Henry Jones company. After being passed from behemoth Butland Industries to Unilever, it was a very short time before it was sold on again – seemingly a year or so. For just a few months in 1960 the company had some sort of joint arrangement with Wattie’s over the brand – which was over by November of that year when all the categories were re-registered solely to Heinz Watties.

An event at the Kirkpatrick family home, Nelson. Provenance and year of photo unknown, but looks to be late 1920s-early 1930s judging by the costume styles.
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In 1964, Wattie’s took over S. Kirkpatrick & Co., Ltd., as well as Thompson & Hills Ltd – now both subsidiaries of The Henry Jones Co-op Ltd in the same factory. So at this point the round-up included OAK, Playtime, and “K” brands. By 1971 they had dismantled the brand and shut down the Nelson factory which was producing all of these labels as well as, of course, a number of Wattie’s products and Watties-owned brands by this point in time.

Known as Kirkpatrick House for well over 70 years, the home served as a charitable girl’s boarding house and then a backpackers.  Photographed in 2009, it still stands in Mount Street as part of a new estate.
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By the end of the 1960s “K” jam and soup had lasted the whole distance, with the last record of product I have seen, being of marmalade in the final year of business. But sadly that was the end for the Kirkpatrick name as far as foodstuffs (as well as Thompson & Hills’ Playtime Jam – which had been around since at least the 1920s).

“K” jam label from my personal collection, circa mid-late 1960s
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The factory site was eventually demolished to construct a New World supermarket – in a somewhat ironic turn a Foodstuffs NZ Ltd – initiated chain built on the very spot where founding father of Four Square,  J. Heaton Barker had worked for Samuel Kirkpatrick up until 1901 (I covered this in my previous article).

“K” soup label from my personal collection, circa mid-late 1960s
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The family residence in Mount Street was called Kirkpatrick House ( later Centennial Kirkpatrick House ), and still presides high on the steep hill looking down to the factory site; it can be easily seen from the supermarket parking lot. It had been left by Kirkpatrick in his will along with a substantial monetary bequest to provide a roof for daughters of deceased Freemasons who needed somewhere to stay when they came from rural areas and surrounds, to finish their education at Nelson College for Girls (eventually anyone sponsored by a Masonic organisation was eligible). Perhaps they also worked in the factory, especially during peak season – it’s highly likely as the “K’ factory was always short-staffed. Hundreds boarded there over a seventy year period until the late 1990s when it became a hostel – the Club Nelson Backpackers. The house was sold off as one of several lots of land in late 2011, part of what is now an “eco” housing estate project .

Marmalade advert, Evening Post, July 1911.
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Nearly ninety years later, his estate still sponsors girls to board at the college’s in-house accommodation. Samuel Kirkpatrick played a major role in the Nelson district’s development, through his fostering of agriculture, horticulture , significant employment of labour – but also charitable acts which have become a lasting legacy.

A Miss Bush in a rather unfortunate outfit advertising Kirkpatrick & Co’s strawberry and raspberry jams, as well as orange marmalade, around 1898. Image courtesy of the Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection, Reference: 62826.

Postscript June 2014: When I wrote and posted this article, I am not sure how aware I was that William and Frederick Tyree, the photographers, were my great-aunt’s uncles. Never expecting to have even a tentative connection to anything I research, I was nevertheless quite pleased to discover this family connection.

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Addendum Sept 2012: This label just in from a British dealer. I have never seen this before and I am guessing it dates somewhere around 1900s-1910s. Why would a previously unseen-for-sale-in-the-Anipodes label end up in the U.K., one might ask? 

This may be the answer, in an ad from a Grocer’s Review magazine of 1948 which shows the can in one of the photos at the top of the post. By accounts, “K” had quite a market not only in Australia, but made it as far as Britain as well.  Image courtesy of Mike Davidson, who scrounged it up from his magazine collection especially for me. 

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Addendum early Jan 2013: I found this ad for the Musto product by S. Kirkpatrick & Co, April 1921. This was part of a series from a campaign by the Charles Haines agency for the “K” brand.

MUSTO KEWPIE - K KIRKPATRICK - HAINES - Auckland Star 4 April 1921 Page 8 copy

 

Power Outlet: The Force of Four Square and Foodstuffs NZ Ltd

In "K" Brand, 4 Triangle, AG Stores, Arrow Butter, Auckland Master Grocers' Association, Baker's Review, Budget brand, Central Provision Stores, Checkout Four Square board game, Cheeky Charlie, Ches and Dale, CPS Stores, Dick Frizzell, Dormer-Beck, Farmer's, Farmer's Co-op, Farmer's Trading Co., Fletcher's Stores, Food Fair, Foodstuffs (NZ) Ltd, Four Square, Four Square Stores (Australia) Pty Ltd, Four Square Supermarkets, Four Triangle, Green and Colebrook stores, Grocers' Review, Icon Products, John Heaton Barker, Kirkpatrick, Laidlaw Leeds mail order company, Ltd, McKenzies stores, Mr. Four Square, National Cash Register Co, New World Supermarkets, New Zealand Grocer's and Baker's Review, New Zealand Grocergram, New Zealand Master Baker's associatio, NZ Master Grocer's Association, NZ Master Grocer's Federation, Pak 'N' Save supermarkets, Pam's Products, Rawakelle tea, S Kirkpatrick and Co Ltd, Self Help Stores, Sir Harry Heaton Barker, Te Aroha Dairy Company, The Farmers Union Trading Company, Triangle brand, Uncategorized, United Buyers, Wattie's, Weston-Frizzell, Woolworth's Food Fair, Woolworth's stores, Woolworth's supermarkets on August 7, 2012 at 10.46

four

A recreation I’ve made of a rare Australian contest poster of the 1950s.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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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