The Supermarket of the Future Will Tell You Everything About Your Groceries

By Noah Kaufman |

Photo Pietro Baroni / Expo 2015

For many people, grocery shopping is simply a utilitarian experience: how quickly can you get in, fill your cart with food and get out. But what if going to the store could be more like wandering a museum? The Future Food District on display now at the Milan Expo has that sort of immersive feeling.

The Future Food District is part farmers’ market, part Xbox Kinect. It utilizes the same motion technology those gamers among you have in your living room to track the food you're grabbing and putting in your cart.

Mirrors hanging over the aisles of food provide what the Future Food District’s project leader Andrea Galanti calls an “augmented reality.” It’s like something you might see while wearing Google Glass, except you don’t have to wear something that makes everyone hate you to get the experience. You’ll be able to see what tree your apple grew on, what chemical treatments producers may have given it, even its carbon footprint.

The market of the future also takes the Western world’s current obsession with oversharing and gives it a grocery store twist. A giant board near checkout displays a ranking of the items shoppers are purchasing. If everyone is stocking up on ramps, you don’t want to be left out, do you?

The whole experience is designed to make shopping for food a more informative, interesting experience. When asked to describe shopping at FFD, Carlo Ratti, the MIT professor who conceived of the market, quotes a scene from a cheese shop in the Italian novel Mr. Palomar: “Behind every cheese there is a pasture of a different green under a different sky. Mr. Palomar feels as he does in the Louvre, seeing behind every object the presence of the civilization that has given it form.”

Try finding that sort of passion at Trader Joe’s.

Like many of the prototypes at the Milan Expo, no one has plans to turn the Future Food District into a grocery store just yet; but more and more people are seeking out the stories behind their food. This would certainly make those stories easier to find. 

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