Visiting the “Supermarket of the Future,” created by Coop for the Expo, was one the most interesting experiences we had. Coop stores are everywhere in Italy. While I speak above of the popularizing of an appreciation for regional Italian cooking, Coop is the institution that has grown up alongside and begun to displace some of the traditional food merchants. One no longer has to go to the butcher, the baker, the produce vender and the general grocer (alimentari); Coop provides one-stop shopping.
At the Expo, Coop displayed how this might take place, using interactive technology. Merely pointing to a product activates a signage system that provides the shopper with a remarkable amount of detailed information on provenance, carbon footprint, potential allergens, and nutritional information, all in easy to read graphics. The goal, according to our guide, is also to vastly reduce the number of carts, because one can select the product and it will be delivered to check out. This functionality was not on display – one wonders what the difference between shopping online and coming to the Coop will be. There was also a display discussing intelligent refrigerators, which will monitor what you have, when you have to use it by, and what you can make. They will also generate your shopping list. All of this is presented very elegantly in beautiful lighting. The supermarket of the future is designed to provide the maximum amount of information in the most convenient way – What it does not provide is taste; you have to know that for yourself.
The Milan expo confronts a daunting series of issues seen from many lenses. There is no single vision other than an awareness of the Expo’s importance and that we are in an era of increasingly scarce resources that we need to use wisely. This brings one back to the United Nations’ Pavilion Zero, with its challenge to eliminate hunger and their observation regarding how much food is wasted. If there is a common theme it is one of awareness: being an informed participant in our food system.