Saturday, June 9, 2012

Lost in the supermarket

I watched this video earlier this week and I was fascinated with the idea of Tesco creating a virtual grocery store in the subway system so that people could shop while waiting by using their smart phones to scan bar codes and put items into a virtual shopping cart, that  would then be delivered to them. Fascinated not only because this idea markets upon people feeling time pressed -- you are basically stuck waiting while in a subway station, so great use of time, but also because it feels like Tesco is doing a 360 on the idea of grocery stores, combining the notion of being self serving while going back to the roots of giving a list to the grocer who would collect all of your items, package them up and hand them to you. And it's interesting to see how a typically suburban venue is now making a home in a very urban atmosphere:

As I have alluded to in previous posts, I recently watched Food Inc. and have been obsessively reading up on our food chain. I have learned about the connection between starving third world countries and overfed first world countries. I have learned about the notion of turning fossil fuel into steak (through feeding lots that utilize corn, encouraging herbivores to gorge on a grain that their stomachs weren't made to handle). I am learning about various types of grasses that utilize the energy of the sun for our steaks to graze on. And I have learned a bit about grocery stores.

Like so many others, I am fairly disassociated with the process of a cow becoming my Sunday dinner. While loading my shopping cart, I don't stop to think about the ecosystem of a farm and how this is taken out of balance with the introduction of industrializing our food. To be honest, I never even stopped to think about how a grocery store or supermarket came to be. It was just always the place I went to buy the fuel needed to keep myself alive and running.

It turns out the Supermarket isn't that old. The concept came to fruition by Clarence Saunders in the early part of the 20th century as a means to make grocery shopping more self serving and cut down on labour costs. Originally,  one would create their list and bring it to a grocer who kept all of the products behind the counter and would fill your order for you, even measuring out the exact amount one would need. Saunders's idea had people file in one door and move around a maze-like venue filling a cart before reaching the check out and the out door (hello product placement!). This is essentially the layouts of the Co-ops and Safeways we utilize on a day-to-day and weekly basis. And we have furthered the self-serving more and more through out the years to the point where I don't even need to talk with anyone at the grocery store if I don't want to. I get my own cart (costs me a quarter to ensure I'll return it!), move around the bakery, the produce section and the meat department filling said cart before making my way to self-check out where a computer constantly asks me if I have scanned my clubcard yet and barks at me to put the item in the bag.  We have moved from a very social outing of visiting the grocer, giving him our list, chatting with neighbours while waiting for our order to be filled to an anti-social chore that many loathe and feel to be very time-consuming.

Tesco, who has combined the origins of providing the list to the grocer to fill while keeping up with an anti-social way of shopping for our food saves on building new brick and mortar stores (although labour costs would increase to fill orders). I feel torn on this -- we are becoming more and more disassociated with our food source to the point we can order through our phone, although the idea does save me time to do other things. No longer are we even greeted with the fresh smell of the bakery or get to poke and prod our fruits and vegetables or smell the meat to ensure we are providing the freshest available food for our bodies. Food is one of our basic needs though, we should enjoy taking the time to shop around for each item, speaking with those who are more knowledgeable about what we are about to put into our bodies, learning the best ways to prepare and feast on our essential fuel source.

I think that Tesco's idea is innovative and a reflection of how our society completes daily tasks now. I just feel somewhat discouraged that using social media to promote this idea, they don't realize they are somewhat taking the social aspect out of grocery shopping. Plus, you don't get to try any tasty samplers while shopping on your phone.

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