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Beyond Organic - The Grocery Store of the Future

Beyond Organic Food

„Last year the USDA announced that the number of farmers in the U.S. had increased for the first time in 150 years ... There’s no other trend in our society anywhere near as cheerful as this swell around food – what it means, how it’s produced and under what circumstances.” Bill McKibben in his blog The Era of Small and Many. The last time I was shopping in the grocery store I was really surprised when I came back. Nearly for half of the goods I got completely rid of their package hulls.

The last time I was shopping in the grocery store I was really surprised when I came back. Nearly for half of the goods I got completely rid of their package hulls. This is because for many groceries I have separate bins, cases, tanks, tins or similar containers, e.g. flour floats into a transparent container with a nice open and close mechanism. Why I do that? Because most of the packages are not very convenient to use after they are opened the first time. Besides, most food packages are so superfluous and have more to do with marketing than with hygienic reasons or conservation. At the end of the day, we – as a part of the food industry – produce unnecessary waste. So, if we think of the competences and the responsibilities of a food store, why should the consumer bother about clumsy, unusable and time-consuming packages that are mostly only existing for the way from the shop to our homes?

If you think about the history of the conventional food store in general there is not so much change over the last 30 years. Okay, the shops are getting bigger and bigger and the shelves getting more packed with food, but the overall system has not changed that much. Let’s assume that we can build a grocery store from scratch without constraints. What will be the main changes if we can decide? The following aspects define my personal ideal vision of the future grocery store.

(1) Get rid of waste or show the product as it is, naked!

Why should the consumer bother about clumsy, unusable and therefore time-consuming packages? As I mentioned, in most cases there is no need for a separate package. Of course, there a hygienic and conservation reasons for packaging, but for sure there are means to get both – the freedom to choose the desired amount of a specific food item (e.g. spices, flour, rice, vegetables …) and at the same time a hygienic and conservative environment. Environmental-friendly and re-usable package systems that are offered by the shop itself could be a solution for transportation, e.g. you fill it up in the store, pay initially for the package. Next time when the package is empty, you go to the store and re-fill it (without paying the second time for the package). As an additional value you generate an open-market-flair in the store itself, which is more natural and direct, as an hidden (packaged) product. People can smell the products again as in the old days of open town market places. Shopping becomes more an experience than an unloved routine.

(2) Get rid of too much choice or quality over quantity

Why should the consumer bother about endless variety of goods in a food store? It should be a competence of the food store to pre-select products to a reasonable amount, not only in quantity, but more importantly, in quality. Dietitians and nutritionists should be included in this process, not only behind the curtains, but rather should provide direct in-house-service for consumers in the future food stores.

Food is getting more and more complicated, but also the people are getting more and more diverse and individual and have different needs concerning their food consumption. On the one hand there are many labels on the product that say it is free of lactose, gluten, nuts or sugar and on the other hand many people nowadays have allergies against various food ingredients or just have the attitude to avoid meat, fish or other substances. This people need service to be sure what to buy to avoid time-consuming research before or during the shop visit. Or worse, they eat the wrong food. So the future store is not only about products, but should provide service concerning what to consume.

(3) Focus on organic, regional & seasonal food OR ecology over economy

Why should the consumer bother if the food has an overall good ecologic balance? Also in this case the store of the future should take responsibility and decide for the benefit of the society and its environment. Of course, organic food is not the solution for all problems, but in combination with regional and seasonal focus the ecologic aspect of food consumption is respected.

An environmental issue is not only the CO2 induced global warming, but increasingly the overall energy dilemma. Cooling of conserved vegetables retains the good quality of the vegetable, but cooling is also a tremendous energy driver. In this case the comeback of pure vegetables in their original shape is a reasonable step to reduce energy consumption. Finally, not to forget the fair trade of products and in this respect the reasonable pay for farmers and other contributors in the food chain.

To keep up with all this issues it is not mere a task for the consumer anymore. The food store has to act as a competence center for good food. And „good“ stands in this case for i.e. organic, regional, seasonal, environmental-friendly (CO2, energy consumption) and fair-traded food.

(4) Technology rules Or the shopping cart 2.0

Why should the consumer bother about endless shopping queues and time-consuming shopping experiences? Use technology to automate as many processes as possible that need no heart and no wisdom of people. Of course, the shopping cart is a very convenient invention for itself. But if we re-think the process of putting things into our cart and afterwards getting it out at the cash desk and finally putting it inside again to leave the shop, we recognize that it is a crazy process and most importantly a bad user experience. An idea could be the integration of the two separate processes collecting food and paying for it into one single process. This would solve at the same time another frustrating issue, namely the shopping queues especially at rush hours. The shopping cart 2.0 is not only able to know the weight of your (unpackaged) products, but uses also an integrated bar code scanner to identify still packaged products. The cart knows also at any time the amount of food items and the overall price. NFC-enabled Smart phones (Near Field Communication), Credit Card or other non-cash-oriented payment methods are used to pay the goods very quickly. It could be that the smart phone with NFC or a credit card is needed to get a cart in the first place.

To sum up, the future food store has to increase their competences in the following areas:

Packaging and waste Management
Reducing choice and focus on pre-selection
Sustainability, concerning the whole food chain (organic, regional, seasonal, environmental-friendly, fair trade)
Integration of technology to support the shopping experience

All this should end up in a new design of a grocery store that recovers the connection between food and consumers, or in general nature and people. Further reasons for change in the design of today’s food stores:

Food should get the value in our society that it deserves (in the last decades the trend was going towards less and less household expenses for groceries).
Organic food stores and farmer markets are in general good, but there is much potential for further development.
Modern supermarkets are only providers of industrialized food.)
Consumers wants to experience the originality of food.
The daily food grocery should be an experience and not a frustrating routine.
Provide the consumer a shopping experience that embodies the full range of smells, tastes and visual stimuli that the nature’s products offer.

Although it is only vision of a „basic“ future store, the need is already there. One proof is the spread of organic food chains and the overall organic and vegetarian lifestyle (due to ethical or environmental reasons). Additionally, people try hard to come closer to the farmer’s products with grouping together in regional communities to act as small buying centers with direct purchase at the farmer’s place. Of course, a vision cannot be implemented overnight, but it is realistic to break it down to a few key points trying to implement them with the bold vision ahead. There should be a continuous process of improvement constantly finding better ways to provide food for consumers in a tasty, usable and sustainable way.


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