Mister Boomer’s latest trip to the supermarket to get the ingredients for his delicious homemade chili sent him on a flashback when he found 26 oz. cans of tomato sauce for 48¢ each (with the supermarket bonus card, of course). Mister B, for one, longs for the days when every can and package — and even produce and some meats — were less than a dollar. He was wondering how long it has been since the price of practically every food item in the supermarket crossed the one dollar line.
In the Boomer Years, food items were often less than a half dollar. Prices for cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup averaged 10-15¢ each fifty years ago, in 1968. The cost of a can of tomato soup didn’t reach the dollar mark until the early 1980s. The same is true for Nabisco Oreos — 45¢ for a 16 oz. pkg. — and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes –– 39¢ for an 18 oz. box. At the same time, bread was around 20 to 25¢ per 1 lb. loaf, and a dozen eggs were in the range of 60¢. Ground beef was less than a dollar a pound, and most fruits and vegetables were 20 to 30¢ per pound. However, there was one item that was more than a dollar in 1968: a gallon of milk.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that by 1968, inflation caused food prices to go up about three percent a year. This annual rise remained relatively steady until the end of the 1970s; between March of 1979 and March 1980, there was nearly a 15 percent rise in food prices, which accounts for many more things costing more than a dollar each as 1980 arrived.
Mister Boomer recalls going on shopping excursions with his father — the food buyer-in-chief in the Boomer household. When things were on sale, items were often four or five for a dollar. Since Mister B’s mom and sister liked Campbell’s Tomato Soup, the shopping team hit the jackpot when the soup went on sale, 10 for $1.00. Jell-O was another packaged food that Mister B remembers his father buying on sale at 10 for $1.00. It was a struggle to try to get the most desired flavors like cherry and raspberry since the shelf emptied out quickly, even though Jell-O was an economical dessert before any sales prices kicked in. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese was often 4 for $1.00, and Banquet Pot Pies could be purchased at 5 for $1.00. The same was true for cans of Del Monte Corn and Green Beans, Campbell’s Pork & Beans and a host of other packaged, bottled and canned foods that had become staples in Mister B’s household, like many other boomers’ homes.
Supermarket sales such as these were the thing that enabled Mister B’s father to afford the brand name products over the lesser-priced brands. There were still compromises in food purchases, though, such as Banquet Pot Pies. Banquet was a cheaper alternative to Swanson or Morton pot pies, introducing their frozen meat pot pies in supermarkets in 1954. To feed a boomer family of five for one dollar was a welcome change. Mister B heard stories of these other brands having great flavor, and, most notably, more meat and veggies. Mister B would not know about that, since the family had a financial loyalty to Banquet.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mister Boomer’s mother would take the frozen pot pies from the freezer (usually chicken for the family), place them whole in their aluminum pans on baking sheets, pierce the tops of the crusts with a fork or knife and pop them into the oven. Forty-five minutes later, dinner was served. Mister B enjoyed his pot pies for the most part, though he always wanted more peas and chicken than was inevitably inserted. Then there was the matter of the crust. The top was always nice and toasty and crunchy, but the bottom could be anywhere from soft and mushy to outright uncooked. Mister B’s mother blamed the oven. Somewhere down the line, the company folks decided that an economical brand such as Banquet didn’t really need an entirely dough-enclosed pot pie and only the crust top remained. That solved Mister B’s bottom-of-the-pie dough dilemma, but the economical nature of the product was compromised in his view. The family noticed but continued to purchase the product, the prevailing argument being the price.
Fifty years ago, McDonald’s introduced the Big Mac. Hardly a supermarket product, it was, however, sold for 49¢. Little did boomers know how short-lived it would be that a wide variety of products would cost less than one dollar.
What products do you remember at prices less than one dollar, boomers? Did your family stock up on food supplies when there were supermarket sales that would offer four or five for one dollar?