The invention of cellophane in the early 20th century was a miracle for grocers and grocery shoppers. For the first time, you could actually see the food inside its package! Cellophane (along with shopping carts and parking lots) helped stores evolve from full-service groceries to self-service supermarkets.
Yet there was a notable exception to the adoption of self-service retailing: the meat department. Even in supermarkets, the meat-buying process remained akin to that of a traditional local butcher shop, where an expert cut slabs of beef behind the counter on a per-order basis, after conferring with customers individually. Some grocers did experiment with self-service meat marketing in the 1930s, but soon gave up due to refrigeration and packaging challenges.
Not until after World War II did most grocers adopt self-service meat sections. That happened partly due to advances in refrigeration cases, but largely thanks to innovations in cellophane.
Nowadays, the part of the store most likely to show off food under cellophane is the meat department. In order to accomplish that, food vendors had to make meat look appetizingly fresh and keep it that way under cellophane. The key was color. Ai Hisano wrote a book about cellophane, and is researching a new book on the history of creating the color of foods. She tells us some secrets about how cellophane and the manipulation of color made supermarkets what they are today, at Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge blog. -via Nag on the Lake