Is There A Difference Between A Grocery Store And Supermarket?

These days, shopping is relatively easy, with stores like Target, Kroger, and Walmart offering just about everything you might need. However, this was not always the case. According to Stacker, even in the early 1900s, Americans still preferred to do their shopping at multiple smaller, local places.

All of this changed when the Piggly Wiggly grocery store opened its doors in 1916. Not only could shoppers find all of their grocery needs in one place, they could also pick out items themselves. Over the course of the next few decades, other grocery chains popped up, offering similar services. As Time Magazine notes, some claim Piggly Wiggly was the first "modern" American supermarket, but King Kullen also revolutionized the shopping game in 1930, leading some people to call the former store the first supermarket while others insist it's the latter. (Per Time, Piggly Wiggly opened first.)

But here's the problem: While we frequently use the terms "grocery store" and "supermarket" interchangeably, they aren't exactly the same thing. In fact, their differences go back to these groundbreaking grocery chains.

Grocery stores and supermarkets are not the same thing

We've established that grocery stores and supermarkets are somehow different, but what exactly is that difference? According to Reader's Digest, not only are grocery stores an older concept, they're also focused solely on food. The 1916 version of Piggly Wiggly, which offered only foodstuffs, would be considered a grocery store, but today Piggly Wiggly is actually a supermarket, as it has expanded its offerings to include household and hygiene products, among others. Trader Joe's is a more clean-cut example of grocery store, extremely popular for its unique food items. It does offer some other items like skincare and fresh flowers, but that still technically qualifies it as a grocer: RD notes that grocery stores sell "maybe a handful of household items at most."

Supermarkets, on the other hand, offer a more extensive range of products. These stores sell various food items, but also clothing, home goods, pet supplies, medication, and more. King Kullen, Kroger, and Walmart are all examples of supermarkets. Thanks to their large product selection, supermarkets have all but become the standard for shopping in the U.S.

At the end of the day, no one's going to beat you up for using "grocery store" and "supermarket" interchangeably. That being said, it's kinda fun to know that there is a difference, albeit a small one.