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8 April 2014


We are heading towards a revolution in the design of food retail. While the full realization of this is several years away, the seeds are being sown in 2014.

How we shop is starting to affect trends in food retail design. I’m talking about supermarkets but also different formats of food market that are starting to appear, and which will one day supercede the traditional supermarket.

Last year, Phil Lempert put forward several trends for US supermarkets, and they are already happening.

For instance, the traditional view is of women doing most of the grocery shopping. In fact, almost half supermarket shoppers are male. Men shop in very different ways to women and we need to respond to this task oriented shopping mode. But more important than this is the mindset, applicable to both genders, that applies to the food shopping occasion. Basket size is getting smaller, visits are getting more frequent. “Buy as you need” shopping is taking the place of the massive bulk shop- this is a result of an increased awareness of freshness, and a growing “green guilt” about waste. This trend will have long lasting effects on the floor plans of supermarkets. Rather than mindlessly wandering up and down the aisles, task oriented customers will now want to short cut from aisle to aisle so they can fill their list and get away quickly. Cross aisles are appearing in the latest Coles stores, and are a common feature in Europe. (An added benefit is more end caps)

Smartphones and tablets are becoming increasingly important in enabling customers to research products and prices – in fact Coles are now including a phone holder in the handle of their trolleys, along with a cup holder for the coffee they bought on the way in.

The truth about supermarket shopping is that, unlike clothing or electronics shopping, it’s a chore. Your customer would much rather be somewhere else, doing something else. If supermarkets continue to keep each other honest on value, then we need to concentrate on delivering a differentiating customer experience.

The mega trends of food retail- the increasing demands for convenience, freshness, provenance and value- will still drive design. But customers are taking increasing notice of the things they need to do to decrease their footprint on the planet. Greenpeace (Climate Vision Background Note no. 8) advises us among other things to simply eat less. Increased consumption of organic foods and reduced consumption of meat and dairy products is already happening. Switching to seasonal and in particular local food is on the increase.

Farm:Shop in London actually produces everything it sells in store. This stretches from hydroponically grown vegetables to tank raised fish, and eggs from the chickens on the roof. Dutch firm Van Bergen Kolpa Architects have designed Park Supermarket, a farm which locally produces food grown in artificial climate zones. You simply buy from the farm- even going as far as to pick your own produce. In cities all over the world, people are growing their own fresh food in back yards and window boxes and tending their own beehives on rooftops.

Here’s what I think is going to happen. No one likes shopping for toilet paper and dog food. Online shopping gives us a way out. We can pre order all of the staples and dry goods online, either from the supermarket direct or from an aggregator that gets us the best deal on everything we order. Eventually, it will all come direct from distribution centres, not the stores. We’ll get it delivered to our homes or offices or to a local convenience store or secure locker. Or we might even pick it up in store when we’re stopping by for the fun stuff- our fruit, veggies, meat, fish and bread.

Traditional supermarkets will become smaller. The opportunity exists for a medium size footprint that offers a highly engaging selection of fresh, baked and pre prepared food, and where you can pick up- but not necessarily shop for- the basics. This store will exist on major traffic routes and will have easy parking and probably a drive through. It will be light, open and engaging. It will have daylight to highlight the fresh component and save on energy during the day. You’ll be able to do all your other chores, like pick up your dry cleaning, get your keys cut, and get a prescription filled. These small businesses may well be taking up the space in the supermarket footprint where the staples used to be.

It will be a social space. There will be areas where you can go for a chat or a coffee if you bump into a friend, or need some time on your own. In inner city areas there may be an area where you can heat up the pre prepared meal you’ve bought and enjoy it with a glass of wine. This already happens in Parisian mini supermarkets in areas where customers live in tiny apartments with no kitchen. Japanese supermarket 7 and i have two-slice packs of bread for this type of customer. Catering for your local market is a growing trend.

With buying commodity goods online at competitive prices and with the high degree of convenience offered at the new markets, customers will become less price sensitive to service based products. Having meat and fish prepared the way you want, and having even vegetables pre washed and chopped will become an everyday option. Customers will start choosing quality and service over quantity for the same price.

Frozen food will start to lose its stigma in Australia as customers become aware of its “fresh frozen” quality. French chain Picard sells premium frozen food that French customers are not afraid to serve to guests, and the store presents it as a premium product.

But fresh will still be the drawcard and will be at the heart of the store. There’s no reason why you can’t be picking your own hydroponic greens or herbs. Or why you can’t have the vegetable butcher chop up all of your salad ingredients so you can combine them with your favourite dressing when you get home and eat them with your freshly store-caught barramundi.

It’s all coming- and we’ll be happy to take the design brief!

Gary McCartney is the owner of McCartney Design, an integrated design studio with all the skills and experience to help you create new benchmarks in your category. Find out more at

8 April 2014
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