One day there will be no supermarkets.
A simple statement, one opinion amongst hundreds, yet one that has the potential to disrupt the entire food supply chain as we know it. It’s a big statement, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that it may actually become true in the not too distant future.
We Will Pay for Convenience
In modern society people are starting to value their time more and more. They value it so much they are willing to pay someone to do tasks that take up too much of their time, especially those tasks that they don’t want to do themselves. To serve this need there has been an increase in the number of products and services that offer convenience.
The food industry introduced convenience slowly with frozen pre-prepared foods in supermarkets and take-away meals from restaurants. From there convenience has evolved to groceries delivered to your doorstep and restaurant meals in your home that you can order with the click of a button.
Availability of these services continues to grow, and as competition increases costs decline making it an affordable option for more people. The result is less people visiting supermarkets less often. It’s simple maths, if consumers increase the number of meals they are having delivered to their door, then there is less need to visit the supermarket to buy groceries.
Food Tech Will Make Grocery Stores Obsolete
If the contributing factors behind less demand for supermarkets are convenience and delivery services, what do these businesses think will happen to supermarkets. We spoke to James Roy Poulter, the CEO and co-founder of Pronto, an online, chef-prepared meal delivery service in London.
When asked if he thought physical grocery stores would be needed in the future he responded:
“The short answer? No! That might sound like a pretty bold statement, and I don’t think this is something that will happen overnight but I do believe that in ten or so years grocery stores will be obsolete.
Why do I think this? Because the way we live our lives is changing, rapidly, and technology is enabling this to happen faster than ever before. This is all the more prevalent when it comes to the future of food which I believe will be driven by food tech. We’re starting to use technology at Pronto.co.uk to drive down prices, meaning that soon we’ll be able to achieve price parity with supermarkets.”
Drones Will Drive Down the Price of Delivery
Technology has the ability to change all aspects of the food industry, from production and manufacture to delivery and consumption. James believes this will be a big part of why supermarkets will no longer be a valid model for grocery delivery.
“Technological advances such as energy efficient and environmentally friendly drones will drive down the price of delivery while vertical farms, controlled by robots, will bring down the cost of the ingredients themselves and make our food supply much more secure. This will mean a higher quality, healthier product at a much lower cost that will be able to feed a global population that is urbanising, fast.”
Not only could technology reduce and ultimately replace the need for supermarkets but there’s also the potential for some pretty exciting solutions. Given the advancement of the ‘Internet of Things’ it’s not unrealistic to believe that kitchen systems could automate our entire food ordering activities.
Imagine the day when fridges and cupboards are able to detect which foods are regularly consumed and what products needed replacing. Include integration with a calendar to determine when meals at home are required, and all meal and grocery planning could be automated so that orders could be placed and delivered at the appropriate time. The possibilities are endless!
Will Supermarkets Survive?
Technology and innovation continues to evolve, and evolve fast. This can only mean that there will be more solutions and convenience options available in the future. Supermarkets on the other hand have traded with a similar model since the first shop opened its doors. Sure, the stores have gotten bigger but they essentially offer the same service: a marketplace that consumers must visit to select their food items. Can they compete in the new world?
James struggles to see how traditional supermarkets will be able to keep pace with the evolving solutions:
“When you have the option of healthy, nutritious, affordable food that can be delivered to you whenever, and wherever you want it, it’s hard to see how supermarkets will survive. What’s more, when it comes to technological advances in food, supermarkets have been incredibly slow to keep up. The retail environment remains largely unchanged and shoppers still lack that thing they really want: control. Talk of drones and vertical farms may seem as realistic as Skynet in the Terminator for a lot of people right now but the reality is these changes are coming and will match consumer demand for convenient, affordable and ethical solutions which will replace the traditional supermarket you see today.”
James and many others believe that the end of physical supermarkets is not far off. Whether you agree with this sentiment or not, it’s clear that there will need to be changes to the traditional supermarket model in the future if they are going to stay in business.
Consumer demands are changing, convenience is becoming more affordable and technology has the ability to provide solutions that reduce society’s need for supermarkets. The next decade will be an exciting time to watch this revolution continue.