Welcome to The Future Market, Your Neighborhood Grocery Store From the Year 2065

Tech industry veteran Mike Lee founded this forward-thinking venture with one question in mind: What’s in store for the future of food?

(Photo: Courtesy Future Market)

Jan 14, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Josh Scherer has written for Epicurious, Thrillist, and Los Angeles magazine. He is constantly covered in corn chip crumbs.

When Marty McFly visited far-off 2015 in Back to the Future, released in 1985, families dined on dehydrated pizzas that were ready to eat in a mere three seconds. In the future world of The Jetsons, any standard maid-bot could make you a full English breakfast at the touch of a button. On the Starship Enterprise, a food synthesizer inexplicably rearranged subatomic particles into pork chops, lasagna, and other Klingon dinner table favorites for the characters of Star Trek to dine on.

According to tech innovator Mike Lee, the future of food won’t follow in those fictional footsteps. That’s why he started The Future Market—your friendly neighborhood grocery store from the year 2065.

The hypermodern food hub, whose online store will open in the spring, won’t be offering up any Jetsonian food robots or particle rearrangers. Instead, Lee wants the store to focus on real, long-term solutions to the problems that are likely to affect how we grow, cook, and eat food in the coming decades.

“Our point is to say, ‘What are the things that could change the world in 50 years?’ and then think about what it means for the things you’re eating from the supermarket,” Lee said over the phone.

This special attention to commercial pragmatism can be seen in The Future Market’s debut product: Crop Crisps.

Imagine a not-so-distant future in which fossil fuel shortages have made fertilizer a scarce commodity and big agribusiness is forced to abandon the old-world practices of large-scale, monoculture farming. Combine that with increased consumer demand for mainstream, sustainable food options, and you get these seasonal snack crackers whose proprietary ingredients are all grown on an organic crop rotation. It’s like a sci-fi fan-fic retelling of Dan Barber’s The Third Plate.

Lee didn’t invent crop rotation—we can credit the ancient Mesopotamians for that one—but he is reimagining it on an industrial scale. It’s not the artisanal companies that can effect serious environmental change; it’s the billion-dollar agricultural monoliths. If companies like Kelloggs and General Mills can influence their farmers to ditch chemically fertilized wheat for crop rotations, such as garbanzo and fava beans, which naturally replace nitrogen in the soil, that could help build long-term soil fertility and produce more food.

The harvest from those soil-boosting plants could then be made into something like Crop Crisps, which come in four flavors: lentil, hard red winter wheat, garbanzo-fava, and hard white winter wheat. The Nabisco-reminiscent packaging makes them look ultrareal—if you walked by a box of Crop Crisps on the shelf at your local grocery store, you wouldn’t think anything of it.

That seems to be the point. Lee doesn’t want to shock people with high-tech gadgets; he wants to start the most appropriate conversations that will reach the most people and effect the most change.

“We just want to be a run-of-the-mill, average, mass-market grocery store of the future,” Lee explained, “and in doing that, we’re trying to represent what most of the world is going to be like—not just the niche portion.”

In December, The Future Market will open a monthlong pop-up shop in Brooklyn, New York. Lee doesn’t know exactly what the store will look like or what products will fill its shelves, but he has an idea of the layout. The store will be divided into five aisles, each focusing on an essential theme: sustainability, alternative proteins, packaging waste, population growth, and hypercustomization.

The Future Market probably won’t be overtaking Kroger, Costco, or Walmart anytime soon—not until 2065, at least—but it will create a valuable space for long-term innovation that the food industry is seriously lacking.

Maybe in Back to the Future 6: Marty’s Revenge the McFlys will be dining on Crop Crisps instead of rehydrated pizzas.