The new role of the supermarket in 2050

What will supermarkets look like in thirty years? Will we still shop in the store, or will we order online? And if we can order everything online, why do we still go to the supermarket? The Embassy of Food is investigating this based on various themes.

Type Update
Published on 15 August 2022
Part of Embassy of Food
The new role of the supermarket in 2050
Part of Embassy of Food

‘I can well imagine that in thirty years, we will all have smart devices at home that collect personal data all day long, such as a smart toilet and bathroom mirror. This way, you can measure a lot of data about your health. The supermarket could then be a place to go to interpret that data. Think of personal nutritional advice or a supplement to your intestinal flora.’

During the upcoming Dutch Design Week (DDW), you can visit the supermarket of 2050. Designers show what supermarkets could look like in the future based on various themes. “You can really experience what different future scenarios could be. There is a lot of interaction, and it makes you think,” says Chloé Rutzerveld, the Embassy of Food curator. Visitors walk through three themes; the supermarket as a lifestyle coach, the supermarket as a living lab and the supermarket as a superbeing. 

Multiple future scenarios

“Of course, it’s not just one possible future; a variety of scenarios are possible,” says Rutzerveld. That is why the Embassy works with three different themes. The first theme is the supermarket as a lifestyle coach. It focuses on the relationship between food and health. Personal data and its analysis also play a major role. “I can well imagine that in thirty years, we will all have smart devices at home that collect personal data all day long, such as a smart toilet and bathroom mirror. This way, you can measure a lot of data about your health. The supermarket could then be a place to go to interpret that data. Think of personal nutritional advice or a supplement to your intestinal flora,” she says. “Albert Heijn, as one of the Embassy of Food’s partners, has contributed ideas on this theme. This also interests them, and they are also conducting various studies in this area themselves.” 

Designer Merle Bergers, one of the participants of the Embassy Lab, is involved in this world. She has designed an installation about our intestinal flora. Rutzerveld explains, “We humans largely consist of microbial cells, such as bacteria and yeasts. Our gut flora, also known as the microbiome, influences our health, behaviour, and mood. Due to the Western diet and the high degree of hygiene, our intestinal flora has been depleted in recent years. This means that many people today only have a small diversity of bacteria. This reduces the immune system’s strength and can increase the risk of irritable bowel syndrome and chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.” That is why Bergers came up with the microbiota-to-go. Your personal profile will be loaded in the supermarket of the future, and the installation will generate a supplement to your microbiota on that basis. “Perhaps in thirty years, you’ll go to the supermarket to boost your immune system or mood,” says Rutzerveld.

Real-life Tamagotchi

The second theme is about the supermarket as a living lab. “This mainly concerns new products such as cultured meat, micro-algae and genetically modified fungi as new ingredients. Currently, there is a large gap between research into new products and consumers. There is little transparency in this, which means that new – sometimes somewhat strange – products have a high Frankenstein-ist aspect to it,” explains the curator. One of the possible scenarios: what does it mean if you as a consumer can be part of new developments? The supermarket will then be a place to participate in research and receive explanations about new products and production techniques. The students of the Industrial Design programme at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) also contributed ideas to this theme. 

Rutzerveld explains, “It would be great if you could grow your own products in the supermarket, a kind of Tamagotchi in real life. In this theme, particular attention is paid to education, citizen science and the personalisation of products. When you grow it yourself, you have a lot of influence on the product you make. You can now also adapt existing raw materials to your liking, for example, when it comes to taste, texture, shape, smell and colour.”

Man and machine, hand in hand

The last theme is the supermarket as a superbeing. This is about the relationship between humans and non-humans. “What if a human and an Artificial Intelligence (AI) work together as supermarket managers? We humans have different weaknesses and desires, we have a profit motive, and we don’t always do everything for the right reasons. But what choices would another entity make? An AI may make different choices, for example, regarding sustainability and the environment, but also regarding ethical issues. And how would that work?” The curator asks. Design studio Nonhuman Nonsense works with different algorithms in images and text. 

During DDW, you can have a conversation with an AI under the supervision of a mediator. The algorithm creates a personalised product for you based on this conversation. Rutzerveld says, “Actually, the overarching question is: would you come to a physical supermarket to be helped with your questions about products? For example, regarding the consequences of how we deal with food.” The Province of Noord-Brabant, one of the partners of the Embassy, is working with the design studio on substantive questions for AI. For example, the province is interested in the possibilities of collaborating with an AI and what this could mean for the Brabant landscape and the future of farmers. 

The mirror

During DDW, visitors can take a walk through all the different worlds. “In between, you will come back to the present day. Where we mainly focus on the current state of affairs regarding food,” says Rutzerveld. “For example, the real price of food, such as the impact of meat and fish on the climate, but also underpaying cocoa farmers for chocolate and coffee and ethical aspects.” The DOEN Foundation’s network and our new partner EIT Food are an important part of this. “They have a lot of in-house knowledge in this area. We also bring our partners’ different networks together. This is interesting for the Embassy but also the partners. This is how we strengthen each other.” 

Rutzerveld wants to hold up a mirror to people in a stimulating and interactive way about what they eat and why. “We want to make people think. Everyone can contribute in their own way.”

Are you curious about what supermarkets will look like in 2050? You can discover it during the exhibition at the Embassy of Food. This exhibition is on display in the Klokgebouw during DDW (22 to 30 October 2022). For more information, check out the Embassy of Food’s webpage. 

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