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Archive for the ‘Poplar Stores’ Category

Self-Sourcing Pudding: Sutherland’s Success

In Custard, Desserts, Fuller Fulton Stores, Jellies, Jelly Crystals, Poplar Stores, Self Help Stores, Sutherland Trust on May 27, 2012 at 10.46

A reproduction I have created of a custard powder can label.  This was in use between 1938-1943 that I know of.

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I’m just going to keep this story of Self Help brief , so I can do a longer, detailed one later in the year with more images. I’m going to focus on the Self Help brand of custard and jelly; I have recreated the box design of their 1936 jelly crystals from a newspaper ad, and also the label from the late 1930s-early 1940s custard powder tin.

This custard container came up on Trademe as part of a larger lot a few months ago and someone else got it. They probably only wanted the variety of Edmonds tins with it, and had no interest in this one or even knew what it was – however I’ve been able to reconstruct the design from the picture. I’ve never seen another one before since.

Evening Post , March 1942 

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I do own a couple of 1930s Self Help cook books which are fairly hard to get hold of. They are quite recent purchases of mine – and as such I haven’t really gone through them yet to see what’s in there regarding ads and stuff; Apart from that examples of the early packaging are amazingly far and few between, for what was once one of New Zealand’s biggest and longest running chain food Stores – and spanning nearly half a century. Occasionally a 1949 board game called “Rugger”, which they issued for the All Blacks tour of South Africa,  pops up for auction – but they didn’t have a wide variety of promotional items to the extent of Four Square stores.

A reproduction I have created of a 1938 jelly crystal box. I have based the colours on the custard can label. The packaging was different in 1935, and had changed again in 1936. 

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Self Help was started in 1922 and by the early 1940s there were around 200 stores dotted about the country; but yet again it’s another brand that is unbelievably almost forgotten today. Apart from their own brand stores they had many more that didn’t go under the Self Help name such as Poplar Stores and Fuller-Fulton’s which I covered here mid- last year :

https://longwhitekid.wordpress.com/2011/07/25/fuller-surprises/

Self Help custard and De-Luxe fruit extract. De-Luxe was another Self Help brand of the 1930s-1940s which also included jelly crystals, culinary essences, coffee, biscuits, coffee essence, and chocolate bars. Evening Post, January 1941. 

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The business was founded by Ben Sutherland who attempted to create a food co-op for the workers at New Zealand Railways where he worked. After decades with the organisation he was near retirement and his concept was a bit of a gamble to say the least. He found there was little support for his idea and scant interest in the shares that were being offered.

Nine flavours of jelly crystals, Evening Post, January 1938. 

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Apparently in some sort of conflict with Railways management of over this issue, he ended up leaving not long after – and branched out on his own. In just over a year later he had seven stores and more on the way. The philosophy of the Self Help stores was to sell goods to the public for as little profit as possible, which sounds pretty ridiculous now in a world of corporate fat cats that only care for high margins. As a result the brand was embraced immediately, outside of his former organisation, and became hugely successful.

 Self Help store on the west side of Main Street, Upper Hutt, circa 1950. Courtesy of  Upper Hutt  City Library collection ref P2-162-274

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Eventually Self Help was one of the biggest chain stores in New Zealand, just behind Foodstuffs (NZ) Ltd’s Four Square stores. Not long after Woolworths launched their first dedicated food store at New Lynn’s Lynnmall in 1963 and were in the process of taking over the country, they purchased the Self Help chain in 1971 and quickly phased it out – replacing all the stores with their own brand.

Five flavours of Self Help  Custard , Evening Post, September 1937.

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The legacy lives on today in the Sutherland Trust which has distributed the equivalent of around sixty five million dollars to various charities. Although their endeavours quickly made the Sutherland family wealthy themselves – it’s a rare “feelgood story” of people that just wanted to help others have a better quality life. And it was successful in all respects and continues to be so. Thankfully every once in a while even today there are still people that have that idea in mind; instead of corporate profit margins- a better world for all.

Addendum mid-June 2012: I acquired two Self Help custard ads in the meantime, which I am adding here below. The colour ad dates from 1939, and clearly shows the packaging I recreated above, in use. The second one dates from 1932 and shows an older version of the can.


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Fuller Surprises

In Cuba Street Wellington, Delicatessen, Fuller Fulton Stores, Fuller Lipton Stores, Poplar Stores, Self Help Stores, Woolworths on July 25, 2011 at 10.46

From the 1920s onwards a revolutionary new way of shopping was introduced – the “self service”. Traditionally orders would be placed by you at the grocer’s counter and employees would weigh and pack for you, as you pointed to the shelves behind them to indicate what you wanted from the available stock. It was also fairly traditional to bring your own containers to refill. Throw-away packaging simply didn’t exist in the way it did later on.

It was a radical idea that took quick hold and grew phenomenally, in tandem with social and economic factors such as the end of rationing, a post-war yearning for freedom and leisure, and subsequently a market flooded with new product to fulfil demands for convenience. In the mid to late 1920s there were few chains – such as 4 Square, AG Stores, and Self-Help. It’s possible, and certainly true in the instance of Self-Help at this time, that you selected your own goods- but still took them to the counter to be packaged, in somewhat of a transitional compromise of tradition.

Fuller-Lipton’s Ltd. was situated at 101 Cuba Street, Wellington – half-way along the eastern side of Cuba Mall. By 1934 the company appears in publications heavily promoting their wares. If you look around in newspaper archives you can find plentiful adverts for their various products, which are pretty over the top; often with comical cartoons illustrating the butter, smallgoods, candy and other products.

It wasn’t long before the name has switched from Fuller-Lipton’s to Fuller-Fulton’s; I am not sure what the desire behind the name change was, but I know how it came about – it was a public competition to rename the store in 1935. It was likely a publicity gimmick to promote the business, much in the way that MGM held a competition to name a new starlet ( the winning moniker was Joan Crawford).

It also seems like Fuller-Fulton’s may have got themselves in a spot of bother over it:

Nevertheless, the name became synonymous with exotic treats – It was one of the largest delicatessens in Wellington and had a reputation amongst European migrants as being the place to go to buy all sorts of interesting foodstuffs at a time when the selection was fairly conservative and bland.
“The thing I particularly remember was the distinctive smell of all the cured hams and salamis and such-like, wafting through the door”, remembers one Wellington regular.
Says Eric Kearney: “I was transferred there in the late 1940’s and remained until 1960. It was a most interesting grocery. The influx of European immigrants searching for foods they were familiar with, together with a wonderful manager, Norm Saunders, meant the importation of many of these foods. The enterprising immigrants who made bread, cheese, and wurst etc., meant that here was an outlet (for their home-made product).” Says another who worked through the late 1970s and early 1980s: “I learned so much about other countries without leaving cuba street; it was a wonderful community ”
It certainly doesn’t make a big deal of a fanciful gourmet aspect in the ads, heavy on the butter, eggs bacon and chocolate, really quite standard fare (or seems very much so to us now) – so it’s interesting to get an insider’s perspective.

He also states that Self-Help (then Co-op, now Sutherland Trust) acquired Fuller-Fulton’s. I am sure there was a small chain of stores by the late 1930s, certainly more than one as far as I recall from ads I’ve seen. Self-Help  most likely acquired it by the end of the 1940s – they had at least 200 stores by the end of WWII themselves, so a company to be reckoned with. Yet I haven’t actually seen any evidence to back up this claim thus far; and there’s no mention of it that I’ve seen in the company history of the Self-Help organisation.


In the mid fifties Fuller-Fulton’s converted to a supermarket but still retained the service delicatessen, and then a few years later doubled it’s floor when a bank vacated the building.

Eric Kearney later mentioned to me that Self-Help purchased the store when it was Fuller Lipton’s and held the competition for the name change, so 1935.  He says:  “Self-Help owned many stores under other names. such as Poplar Stores  just up the road from us, but Fuller-Fulton’s had a reputation par excellence”.  As Self-Help were acquired by Woolworths in 1971 and phased out pretty quickly as far as I know, Self-Help obviously jettisoned Fuller-Fulton’s or part thereof at some point as Fuller-Fulton’s survived, or at least the main store did – surprisingly late in the game – with one person remembering working there as late as 1986. He says: “After the sale by National Distributors and the Self-Help Trust, the premises became a shoe store”. So it still doesn’t supply an answer. Anyway, I wonder what happened after that, between that late sixties and the late eighties? There’s a few unanswered questions, no photos as yet, and no doubt some more to this story. so until then, I’ll leave you with this retrospectively completely inappropriate poultry ad from 1934!

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