Southerners Love Piggly Wiggly For This Small But Important Reason

For many Southerners, Piggly Wiggly is a cultural icon. In fact, folks have been digging the pig ever since Clarence Saunders founded the first Piggly Wiggly in 1916 in Memphis, Tennessee. For reference, in 1916 America, the House rejected a motion to give women the right to vote, Joe Hill was killed, Babe Ruth hit his first career home run, Einstein came up with the Theory of Relativity, and the average life expectancy was 54.5 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was an entirely different world and Piggly Wiggly helped usher in a new one. 

The Tennessee State Museum calls Piggly Wiggly "The First Supermarket," and for good reason. It was the first store ever to introduce self-service grocery shopping (The chain's slogan is literally "The Original Self-Service.") In most grocery stores of the time, the commonplace practice was for shoppers to simply hand their grocery lists to store employees who would then go find all the items and package them up for the customer, per Smithsonian Magazine. Subsequently, Piggly Wiggly was also the first grocery store to have checkout lines, price mark each individual item, implement employee uniforms, and create physical grocery displays. Stores like Whole Foods wouldn't exist today without the innovations Piggly Wiggly brought to the table. But why do Southerners still love Piggly Wiggly so much today? It isn't even for the store's pioneer work in the advent of the modern supermarket. The reason may seem small, but to many shoppers, it's an important one.

75 cent soda, anyone?

In modern America, self-service grocery stores are the norm and many folks live well into their seventies, but food inflation has impacted many Americans' lives. Even the sacred New York City "dollar slice" costs around $1.50, per Eater. But one of the remaining keepers of the affordable cost is Piggly Wiggly, whose vending machines crank out sodas for between 50-75 cents (via Southern Living).

Let us put it this way: According to AAA, a gallon of gasoline in Tennessee costs around $3.50. If you drive a 2016 Range Rover (with a 27.7 gallon gas tank, per, it'll cost you just shy of $97 to refuel. But if your Range Rover ran on soda from the Piggly Wiggly instead, you could fill up from empty for just $21. Even a Pepsi at the Taco Bell on South Third in Memphis charges soda fans $2.29 a pop (pun intended). That's over 300% higher than at Piggly Wiggly.

So, who do we have to thank? There might've been a real-life Trader Joe, but the motivation behind the name "Piggly Wiggly" remains unknown. The closest Saunders ever got to explaining "why" is when he answered, "So people will ask that very question." Clearly, the name seems to have stuck. Piggly Wiggly has since expanded to over 600 locations across 17 states, and the store remains a lighthouse for southern soda sippers on a dime (Or, literally, on two or three quarters).