What will the supermarket of the future look like?

[Special: De Toekomst] NEWBOAT – What will we eat in the future? And where do we get it from? What will the supermarket look like in the future? Does the supermarket even still exist? Food designer Chloé Rutzerveld’s field of work is the future of our food, and asking critical questions is inextricably linked to that. Her work makes such complex concepts clear and makes you think. Do we want this future?

For Rutzerveld, who also calls herself a ‘food futurist’, it all started with the question of how she would introduce cultured meat into society. It was an assignment from the Technical University of Eindhoven, where she studied. “I discovered that I found it very interesting to look critically at this and that I wanted more than to come up with a form. My key question became: ‘How far are people willing to go to eat meat?’ I then designed a bioreactor amulet that would supposedly allow people to grow their own flesh on their own bodies. Literally ‘you are what you eat’. It went too far for people, which shows that behavior change can actually happen.”

What if?
Her working method – asking many critical questions, always looking towards the future – is reflected in all her work and now also in the exhibition Fremtidens supermarked, which can be visited during the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. There was also an exhibition about the future of the supermarket in 2021, which was also curated by Rutzerveld together with Annelies Hermsen as curators for the Food Embassy. World Design Embassies, of which the Food Embassy of Food is one, revolve around the search for solutions to the problems of the future and the role that designers can play in that connection. A role that should not be underestimated, Rutzerveld believes: “A designer’s usefulness extends so much further than designing a new chair! Designers can bring scientific research to life and thus reach a large audience.”
In the exhibition about the supermarket of the future, interactive installations make difficult concepts visible, for example. Rutzerveld shows a blue silicone cube with microbes, which weighs one and a half kilos. “That’s how much your gut bacteria weigh,” she says with a laugh.
The supermarket as an environment for the presentation of future tracks was not chosen for nothing. Rutzerveld: “This environment is all about design and technology. And just like at an exhibition, the products scream for attention, and the visitors are gently guided in a direction. The packaging is also designed to get things done. And there is a lot of experimentation, driven by marketing and sales. Plus: there will be a cross-section of the population in the supermarket. It really is a fascinating place.”

The supermarket is a really fascinating place

The exhibition, which opens in October, looks towards the year 2050. What can be said about the supermarket of the future? Rutzerveld, who of course cannot see into a crystal ball, has devised three different scenarios with the Food Embassy. Albert Heijn also contributed ideas as one of the exhibition’s partners. Of course, there were many critical questions ahead. “What if the regular groceries are all done online in 2050? So what could the role of the physical supermarket be? This was the starting point for our future scenarios”, explains Rutzerveld.

time slot
Visitors to the exhibitions will be able to go through a time warp entrance, i.e. through three different futures. The interactive installations sometimes aim to clarify complex concepts and encourage people to think. Do we want this future?
The first scenario is based on the supermarket as a lifestyle coach. Rutzerveld: “The relationship between food and health is central to this. People are collecting a lot of data about their own health, and it will only increase. For example, with a mirror that ‘sees’ that you are tired or a smart toilet that analyzes faeces. This data can then provide personalized nutritional advice. In this scenario, a fusion of healthcare, retail and science will take place in the physical supermarket.”

In the second scenario, the supermarket is a kind of knowledge and experience center where customers go to learn more about new foods and how they are made. You can’t buy food there, but you can taste, discover and grow it yourself. Because, Rutzerveld wonders aloud, is the supermarket the right place to get to know and try cultured meats and other new foods? Could the educational task not be performed better by others? “In this scenario, the distance between producer and consumer is removed,” explains Rutzerveld. “Who better to tell us about the production techniques for our future foods?”
In the third scenario, artificial intelligence will play a major role. “We all have certain wishes and opinions about food. For example, we want to buy sustainably produced food, or absolutely no meat, but then we put all products in our shopping basket that contradict those intentions. It’s just really, really hard to create a behavior change. The non-sustainable or unhealthy products are still very tasty, either we choose for convenience or find the alternative too expensive. But what if you ignore your desires? An AI system has no human desires and can therefore make better choices. In the third scenario, customers in the supermarket engage in a conversation with AI about what they find important. The system then comes up with suitable hyperpersonal alternatives,” explains Rutzerveld.

People are collecting a lot of data about their own health, and it will only increase

Sensory experience
It all sounds very technical and cold. The food is also tasty and nice, right? And doesn’t the supermarket also have a social role? Rutzerveld agrees with the latter. “We have certainly also looked at the supermarket’s social role in the future. But we have chosen not to make it a separate world. The social aspect is reflected in the Living Lab, where it is about growing food yourself. If in the future you can grow your own products in the supermarket, you can also do it together with others,” explains Rutzerveld. And about the high technology content: “All our food is already produced using technology. I think that is very special.”
The taste of our food that is. Will the food of the future still taste good? We don’t have to worry about that, says Rutzerveld. “There are many researchers who are interested in how we experience taste and smell. ‘Tasty’ food can be made by adding sensory experience. By applying textures, shapes, scent and color. That is not the problem. For me, the challenge lies in other things. Why do we make food the center of everything? How can we separate feeding from emotion? Do we really have the right to eat what we want?”

The exhibition can be seen from 22 to 30 October 2022 during Dutch Design Week in the Klokgebouw in Eindhoven.

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