The average supermarket carries more than 31,000 items. Sourced from a global supply chain, and bundled in colorful printed packaging, it’s hard to imagine this model ever being environmentally or economically sustainable. The true costs of food waste, transportation pollution, and lousy wages are hidden behind a veneer of convenience.
In response, Francesca Tambussi, a recent Design Academy Eindhoven masters graduate, has developed a store prototype called Hyperburgers. It’s an “inconvenience store” that’s designed to serve communities rather than businesses.
“It’s a supermarket entirely run by consumers,” explains Tambussi. “They’re the ones who put the food or boxes on the shelves.”
Sound like a co-op? Sure, a little bit. But while co-ops are generally built upon memberships—creating the sort of financial and psychic overhead that comes with an ongoing commitment—Hyperburgers is meant to be a place anyone can drop into at any time to buy groceries or prepared foods. The only catch is that they need to give something back when they do.
Here’s how it works: The shelves of Hyperburgers could be stocked with food, most of which is provided by other patrons. Home gardeners might stock the shelves with produce. People with a chicken coop could bring in eggs. Travelers who brought back some bottles of wine from a visit to France might even stick a couple on the shelf.
When you want to buy something, you use your phone to directly pay whoever supplied the food. (This isn’t the barter system! It’s still good old capitalism.) The money goes right to the food supplier—each item is linked to a peer-to-peer payment system on the backend. However, you’re still supposed to give a little something extra back to the store, and here’s where things get interesting. You might volunteer time to clean. You might bring in packaging—cleaned plastic yogurt cups to be reused or paper bags that are still in good shape—for other patrons or suppliers to utilize. Or, in a Hyperburgers kitchen, you might help cook the store’s prepared foods and drinks. Tambussi points out that oat milk is very simple to produce with the right machinery. So you could show up on Sunday and help make the oat milk sold at Hyperburgers.
“I want to make it really easy to give,” explains Tambussi. “Not everyone is into food providing. That can be alienating: ‘Ugh, another activist thing! I’m overwhelmed! I have a family, a job!’ But it can be as small as taking a jar from home and bringing it in.”
To be economically sustainable, Tambussi concedes that the store would need to be a nonprofit, with space donated by the cities where the store resides. Grant funding could cover a single employee who could oversee operations. But this is a just use of public funding, Tambussi argues, because food should be a civic resource rather than a commercial enterprise. Tambussi even plans to share it as an open source book that anyone can reference to open their own Hyperburger-style store.
Now, it’s easy to scrutinize the concept. How would this non-store have everything you need? Couldn’t some people sandbag the system? Won’t you have more people consuming food than providing it? What if people steal? Tambussi acknowledges such unknowns and potential pain points, but is undeterred from realizing this prototype as a permanent storefront if the opportunity arises.
“You can’t get rid of the supermarket in one day,” says Tambussi. “The idea of the shop is to be incremental, a slow growth. It’s the opposite of a new liberal business where it needs to be time-efficient.”