Grocery stores aren’t really known for innovation; 50 years ago, a supermarket down the street might have looked basically the same as it looks today. But 50 years in the future–as the food system reacts to a changing climate, water shortages, and shifting technology– you might find things at your corner store radically changed.
In The Future Market, a pop-up grocery store that will be built in New York City next summer, a group of designers will work with the food industry to demonstrate what the bodega of 2065 might look like.
You might, for example, walk into the store with a digital food ID that tells the store your allergies, food preferences, and dietary needs, and then you might shop on a touch-screen shelf that automatically delivers your order–possibly picking fresh vegetables from an in-store hydroponic farm on the way.
The pop-up store will also include details about each fictional product inside. “Crop Crisps,” a national brand of chips that would change ingredients annually to support crop rotation, shows how major food manufacturers might move away from the idea of providing the same products in every season, in every location.
“It’s a way to say here’s how much we think the world could change, and here’s how we think Big Food could change,” says Mike Lee, CEO of Studio Industries and The Future Market. “That’s why it looks like a mass produced product and not an artisanal product.”
The designers are also exploring ideas like sustainable packaging, eliminating food waste, and urban farming. “The challenge for us is to take something that we see happening today, accelerate it 50 years and say what if the urban farmers of the world were the rule, not the exception?” says Lee. “In that world, where everyone can farm exactly what they need in a very small efficient space, what does that look like for the grocery store? You don’t need factory farms anymore if you can produce very efficiently in a bodega-sized lot.”
Around half of the products in the store will come from people working in the food industry rather than the design team–a cheesemaker, for example, might imagine how cheese might wildly change by 2065. The designers hope that the process will help inspire more radical innovation in a slow-moving industry that tends to look forward one year at a time. “By showing people the 50-year vision first and then thinking about the two-year vision or the five-year vision, I think you can get a very different result than if you do it the other way around,” says Lee.
It’s possible, of course, that physical grocery stores might not even exist in 50 years. But the designers wanted to build a store to help make the ideas more relatable. “We want to use the modern format of the grocery store as a bridge to what could be happening tomorrow,” Lee explains.
By creating a store that people can walk around in, the team also wanted to help make the distant future seem more tangible, so people can understand how something as abstract-seeming as climate change might affect their everyday life in Aisle 3.
“People have this disconnect between their short-term actions and long-term consequences,” Lee says. “If you can’t really envision what the long-term consequence of X is, we’re going to build an environment that shows you that now, and hopefully that might change the way that you approach today. We think that we can impact that short-term thinking both at the consumer level and also at the corporate level.”