The Future Supermarket

For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.
— John F Kennedy


What will the supermarket of tomorrow look like?

The Future Supermarket Workshop. Photo by Ivar Simonsen

The Future Supermarket Workshop. Photo by Ivar Simonsen


This is an important question.

And it is so important, that the answer should be explored, speculated, imagined, and debated from a multitude of perspectives, involving into the discussion various participants, from designers and innovators, to industry specialists, to consumers and people who work in the field of food production and distribution… like NOW!

This is what Juliane Busboom and Ivar Simonsen, students at ITU Copenhagen started to explore and research for their master thesis, and last week, by their invitation, I had the pleasure to participate in their workshop, where they presented their concept: a speculative design project envisioning alternative images of the future supermarket. They explore this question (What will the supermarket of tomorrow look like?) through 20 future scenarios depicting future technologies and behavioural trends, and their potential consequences.

Needless to say that this approach to the subject of food and its systems (production, distribution, cultural, and social) it’s of a high interest to me, and I’ve been greatly impressed with their work, therefore I would like to dive in a bit deeper, and share with you some of their perspectives.

When it comes to the future of anything, it’s important to understand where we are at now, how do we, as society, do things, and study everything that influence our decisions and behaviours. This is where psychology, culture and cognitive biases have the potential to offer us information about how do we think and act in certain situations, and where we can have an impact, if we want to change the course of our existence in the future.

A meaningful conversation with  Juliane Busboom ,  Tom Jenkins  Ph.D. (Assistant Professor, Digital Design Department, IT University of Copenhagen),  Erika Marthins  (Interaction Designer and Creative at  Space10 ), Nicolas Arroyo (Partner & Foresight Director at  Bespoke ) and Rune Toldam (Partner & Creative Director at  Bespoke ) about the future of the supermarket. Photo by Ivar Simonsen

A meaningful conversation with Juliane Busboom, Tom Jenkins Ph.D. (Assistant Professor, Digital Design Department, IT University of Copenhagen), Erika Marthins (Interaction Designer and Creative at Space10), Nicolas Arroyo (Partner & Foresight Director at Bespoke) and Rune Toldam (Partner & Creative Director at Bespoke) about the future of the supermarket. Photo by Ivar Simonsen

Being concerned with these topics, and based on my BA thesis NON-PACKAGING FOR MASS COMMUNICATION - A Critical Design Perspective & Prototyping For No-Meat-Eating, Juliane and Ivar invited me, together with other specialists working and teaching in the areas of design and future speculations, food innovation and technology, to explore their 20 scenarios of how the supermarket will look like in the future. They categorised these perspectives in five characteristics.

The future supermarket is:

  • Autonomous

  • Local

  • Personal

  • Informed

  • Effective

Based on these, together with technological developments and economical and cultural trends, they created detailed scenarios to envision how our world would be improved (or not), offering an insight into a near future, that could be perceived from utopian to dystopian (depending where you stand ideologically).

The Future Supermarket Workshop. Photo by Ivar Simonsen

The Future Supermarket Workshop. Photo by Ivar Simonsen

The Future Supermarket Workshop - Future Scenarios Booklet. Photo by Ivar Simonsen

The Future Supermarket Workshop - Future Scenarios Booklet. Photo by Ivar Simonsen

The Future Supermarket Workshop - Will it be possible “to print” your steak (cultured meat) in the supermarket? Photo by Ivar Simonsen.

The Future Supermarket Workshop - Will it be possible “to print” your steak (cultured meat) in the supermarket? Photo by Ivar Simonsen.

In each of these scenarios, various technological developments and industry innovations have been employed to envision how we will interact with our food, our kitchen appliances, ingestible sensors, and scientific information about our food, where our purchase behaviour has been extended to involve governmental regulations.

For instance, for the “Local“ dimension of the supermarket, Juliane and Ivar explored the idea of the cell-cultured 3D printed meat, as part of the in-house food production trend. They say that “this does not only give people the opportunity to shop instantly produced meat of any kind, but has minimised the CO2 footprint of meat production rapidly.“ This statement is a testimonial from the future, where this kind of meat “is a nutritious and sustainable source of food which, in comparison to old times in the 2010’s, can be endlessly consumed“.

In the image above, “we are following Max around the store. He’s expecting his family tonight and wants to serve them a special meal. Thinking of one of their family holidays in Norway, he remembers tasting moose. There are no moose living in Denmark, however thanks to new technology and cell-culture processes, he can now get the meat in his local grocery store. Approaching the vending-machine-like-device he types > moose > tenderloin > 5 pieces. He gets the receipt and will be able to pick up the order in 5-10 minutes when he is done with the rest of his groceries.“

On a scale from Realistic ——— to Unrealistic, where is this scenario standing? Or, maybe a more important question, on a scale from Desirable ——— to Undesirable, where would you place this solution to the problem of meat eating?

The Future Supermarket Workshop - Future Scenarios Booklet. Photo by Ivar Simonsen

The Future Supermarket Workshop - Future Scenarios Booklet. Photo by Ivar Simonsen

Going further, they envision a scenario where this concept could clash with the governmental regulations regarding food consumption, and offer us the following story:

“Today, Denmark is one of the most healthiest nations in the world. The state invests a lot in its society and is putting millions into innovative technologies helping the Danes to live a healthy life. Their newest invention is built in rationing detector. It has just been rolled out to most of the supermarkets around the country. However, many customers are yet not prepared for the challenges this new technology brings. Yesterday we met Theresa from Copenhagen, a mother of three at her local store and interviewed her about her experience with the built-in rationing detector at the 3D meat producer.”

Reporter observing a woman ordering meat from the 3D producer.

A woman types > chicken > wings > 15 pieces. Instead of receiving the usual receipt for instant production, the machine answers: Hi! To cover your daily minimal needs you, as an adult female, would only need one chicken wing. I can, therefore, not give you fifteen wings. Since the Danish Government together with the Ministry for Common Health has set the a new goal towards a population with maximum 0,5% obese and unhealthy people, our standards have changed. If you would like to buy pieces of meat for other members from your family, please bring their consent. If you have a consent, please scan it below the screen.”

The Future Supermarket - Future Scenarios - LOCAL

The Future Supermarket - Future Scenarios - LOCAL

So, what about this scenario? The same question applies: On a scale from Realistic ——— to Unrealistic, where is this scenario standing? And, on a scale from Desirable ——— to Undesirable, where would you place this solution?

To explore even more dimensions, including the cultural and ideological perspectives, Juliane & Ivar go even further, and create the following scenario:

“With the introduction of cell-cultured 3D printed meat, many people’s ideological concerns have been helped. Cell-cultured meat has the same nutritional value as conventional, biological cultured meat from animal that grew up on a farm. At the same time, it doesn’t have as nearly as many environmental expenses as conventional cultured meat, nor does it collide with ideological concerns about killing animals for food.

Hence, within the last few years, the amount of vegetarians and vegans has decreased enormously, and is today counting less than 2% of the Danish population.“

The Future Supermarket - Future Scenarios - LOCAL

The Future Supermarket - Future Scenarios - LOCAL

Realistic ——— Unrealistic?

Desirable ——— Undesirable?

And, to take it even further, they imagined how this innovation in the food industry could create serious conflicts among the meat industry players, resulting in seriously bad news:

“Due to the environmental benefits, there has been a shift in demand from biological grown meat from farms towards lab-grown and 3D printed meat directly in the shop. This development has caused a lot of discussions within society and mobilised stakeholders. There are the farmers on one hand, fighting for their business, and climate activists on the other hand, aiming for minimising CO2 footprint of everyday groceries like meat, and lastly, the supermarket wanting to meet the customers demands.

There has been a range of smaller incidents from all sides fighting for their interests. Last week, the so far most grievous incident happened in a local supermarket in Viborg.“

The Future Supermarket - Future Scenarios - LOCAL

The Future Supermarket - Future Scenarios - LOCAL

Realistic ——— Unrealistic?

Desirable ——— Undesirable?

Not hard to guess that this might sound undesirable… But, is it realistic? I guess the answer depends on how optimistic or pessimistic you are about the future and human kind.

All these scenarios are included in the LOCAL perspective of the Future of the Supermarket, and more scenarios are imagined for the rest of what could describe the Supermarket of the Future: Autonomous, Personal, Informed and Effective. All these tell stories from the future, where our society changed and adapted to include technological advancements, ideological shifts, and governmental ideologies that came together to shape our world.

From autonomous supermarkets that come to you wherever you are just by a tap on your screen, to social credit system that punishes or rewards you in accordance to your behaviour, to unforeseen tragedies due to mishandling devices, to use of your privacy to create recommendations “just for you“, to Ingestible Sensors that tells you what you need or not to eat; from accurate information about the source of your food to nudging you to buy one product and not the other, to smart fridges that tell you what to eat and what to avoid, ordering the food for you and taking care of your health.

The Future Supermarket - Future Scenarios - EFFECTIVE

The Future Supermarket - Future Scenarios - EFFECTIVE

Realistic ——— Unrealistic?

Desirable ——— Undesirable?

Juliane & Ivar’s goal is to make the viewer reflect upon technological systems and social interactions that could be leading in the supermarket of tomorrow.