How We Eat | Paco Underhill

Summary of: How We Eat: The Brave New World of Food and Drink
By: Paco Underhill


In his thought-provoking book, ‘How We Eat: The Brave New World of Food and Drink’, Paco Underhill takes a deep dive into the changes we can expect in our supermarkets and food consumption habits. He tackles the significant implications of technology, climate change, and consumer expectations in shaping the future of food production, distribution, and accessibility. As we explore the world of hydroponic farming, customer engagement strategies, and the use of technology to improve shopping experiences, we delve into the potential for a more sustainable and conscious approach to food.

The Future of Supermarket Experience

Supermarkets might not be the most exciting part of your day, but that is about to change as new expectations and crises such as climate change reshape the future of food. As consumers become more aware of the lifecycle of their food, they demand more socially conscious and environmentally friendly options. In response, supermarkets are likely to be disrupted, and new food futures will emerge. The emergence of digital technology has made it easier for farmers to hydroponically grow and sell food locally in greenhouses or repurposed shipping containers, offering more diverse and healthier food options for customers. Technology, which helped big food get bigger in the 20th century, is now being used to get smaller, more efficient, and democratic. With online grocery shopping becoming more popular, the supermarket parking lot experience has become even more complex, with reserved spaces for customers who purchased their groceries online. The shopping experience is about to change dramatically, and supermarkets must be prepared to accommodate new consumer expectations and preferences.

Transforming Supermarkets for Better Consumer Engagement

This book encourages supermarkets to learn from retail giants like Apple and Sephora by training employees to engage more directly with customers. Sales associates can act as “produce sommeliers” in the produce department by giving customers food preparation advice and friendlier interactions. The book suggests using QR codes to link consumers to information like vegetable recipes, cooking preparation videos, and cruelty-free labeling. According to the book, this strategy will better cater to consumers who are willing to spend more to shop conscientiously and make the whole experience of grocery shopping more engaging.

Future of Grocery Shopping

Grocery stores can enhance customers’ shopping experience through technology. Self-service scanning in Western European countries allows for time-saving and reduced labor costs. Stores can also use customers’ shopping history data to personalize their experience and alert them to sales. This level of intrusion can polarize customer opinion but offers a value-added shopping experience. By employing similar technology supermarkets worldwide can reduce long lines, organize their stores more effectively and entertain their customers.

Urban Farming for a Sustainable Future

Square Roots, a Brooklyn-based basil farm, represents the potential future of urban agriculture. With conventional farming practices, overplanting results in a billion tons of wasted produce every year. Small urban farms like Square Roots offer a local solution to this problem. Square Roots uses a scalable indoor farming technology platform to adjust conditions like humidity and CO2, reducing shipping costs and gas miles. In addition, they invest in training the next generation of farmers to develop skills like branding, marketing, and indoor-growing, enabling them to adapt to the effects of climate change. Tobias Peggs, the CEO, dislikes how retail stores reject produce that doesn’t meet their aesthetic standards while people go hungry. He believes that by finding ways to grow less and still feed everyone, we could make a significant environmental impact. With crop failure due to climate change and intensive farming techniques becoming more common, indoor farming approaches like those used by Square Roots will inevitably become a norm in the future.

The Supermarket of the Future

Carlo Ratti Associati designed an experiential store called “The Supermarket of the Future” that showcased smart mirrors displaying information about products. The design emphasized the narrative of each product throughout the shopping experience. Ratti predicts traditional supermarkets becoming obsolete with the convenience of apps for staples and delivery. The future of shopping experiences offers unique and enjoyable experiences.

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