Stories

Grocery Stores: The IoT of Food

They know where you are in the store. They know what shelf you’re looking at. They know which product’s ingredient label you’re reading. And now, thanks to hidden cameras, sensors, beacons, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and our own mobile phones, stores — and the brands they carry — can respond to your actions with instant coupons, flash sales and other enticements to buy. Brick-and-mortar stores are going digital.

Markets Go It Alone

The buzzword for today’s brick-and-mortar retailer is “frictionless.” It refers to a shopping experience where customers can come and go with ease. It means not waiting in lines and never having to take cash or a credit card out of your wallet. Sounds dreamy, right?...

How They’re Watching Us

In the early days, retail stores tracked customers via turnstiles. After turnstiles, some stores turned to electronic beams, while others used light sources to count traffic in aisles. These days, our favorites stores have much more detailed information about us and our shopping habits and preferences. Find out how they get it.

Side Dish Gallery: Mom & Pop Shops


Small, independent groceries were once vital to communities, the places where you could find anything. As their numbers have declined, we went in search of resilient mom-and-pop shops across the country.

Food for Thought: South End Grocery

Welcome to South End Grocery in Rockland, Maine. The independent general store persists in a town that’s morphed from working waterfront to arty tourist destination.

Food Movers: Paper or Plastic

Single-use bag bans are all the rage. But is that the right environmental option? The rise and fall of the ubiquitous plastic bag.

Food Movers: Keg Cycle

When beer kegs get lost, breweries lose money. But new technology helps track errant kegs wherever they are in their journey, saving margins and ensuring more fresh beer.

Best Before… Who Knows?

Some foods seem never to go bad. Just about anything sold in a box or a can is likely to have a long shelf life. But fresh ingredients — produce, dairy, meats — are ticking clocks: weeks, days or even hours from spoiling and becoming part of the 400 pounds of food each American wastes each year. Fortunately, prolonging shelf life is an endeavor brimming with innovation these days. Read on to learn about some of the newest techniques for keeping food fresh — from farm to fork.

Protecting Provisions

Food packaging has been around as long as people have traded goods in markets. How else are you going to schlep that wine home across the desert? Given all that’s new in packaging and shelf-life technology, we’re taking a look back to some golden oldies, from skins...

Edible Bugs: More Than Just Protein

From grasshopper tacos to mealworms on chocolate bars, edible bugs are turning up in restaurants and tasting parties. What are you waiting for?

The Return of Sail Cargo

More than 150 years after the sailing age ended, tall clipper ships are reappearing as a greener option for transporting premium cargo.

The Freshest Leafy Greens

Lettuce is a cool-weather crop. It likes pleasant days and chilly nights. But that ideal temperature range doesn’t exist in most places for more than a few weeks at a time. Most leafy greens grow in California or Arizona and travel a long way to your store. Unless your store is growing its own lettuce in high-tech containers and selling just-picked salad greens the same day. Read about the store that’s become its own supplier.

Fish Out of Water

When you think of lobster, you probably think of Maine — its cold waters are the perfect breeding ground for the buttery crustacean. Despite lobster’s success, Maine’s fishing industry is working hard to diversify its catch, and new aquaculture methods are a big piece of the puzzle. From small-scale scallop growers to an international salmon-farming corporation, the newest generation of Maine’s seafood producers is moving beyond the lobster claw.

On Our Loading Dock

The best books, podcasts, films and other media exploring today’s food system.

Startup Spotlight: Ten Acre Organics

Urban farming is a hot topic in food production right now, but creating a profitable farm in the middle of a city is a hard field to plow. We caught up with 2015 Food+City Prize winner Ten Acre Organics to find out how they did it.

Startup Spotlight: Bento Picnic

It’s not easy or cheap to open a restaurant in a growing city. Entrepreneurs must come up with creative ways to realize their dreams of a traditional storefront restaurant. We caught up with Leanne Valenti, founder of 2016 Food+City Challenge Prize participant Bento Picnic, to find out how she did it.

Side Dish: Fashionable Foods

Ever wonder how store shelves brim with that cool new ingredient just as you discover it on Instagram? We learned how suppliers keep up with spiking demand when a food trend takes hold.

Recipe Tracker: Cooking Out of the Box

We look at recipe development through the eyes of several chefs, all of whom have different agendas: to eliminate waste, to use discarded ingredients and to create something unique with unexpected combinations. The common thread? Experience and creativity.

Smarter TV Dinners: Getting Under the Hood of Today’s Takeout

Just five years ago, home delivery was largely the realm of the pizzeria. But today, consumers can dine on menu items from almost any restaurant at home, thanks to independent apps that function as mini-logistics platforms. Kristin Phillips looks behind the scenes of the way we eat now.

Handoffs: Bills of Lading and the Cargo Custody Relay

Blockchain is the newest way to track and trace our food as it moves through the supply chain to our plates. But the practice of tracking food shipments isn’t new. It has long been a way for shippers to make sure their cargo is safe and secure throughout its voyage.

The Evolution of How We Shop for Food

There was a time, not long ago, when we all just went to the grocery store, filled our shopping carts, then drove home. But times are changing fast — today, we’re outsourcing shopping of all kinds, instead relying on a complex network of shoppers and shippers to bring us our goods within a week, a day or even an hour. Larissa Zimberoff explores these shipping journeys.

Will Trucks Ever Vanish? The Future of Transportation

While trains, trucks and ships continue the global movement of our food, the evolution of that last mile to our front door is vaulting forward. Here are a few innovations that might become old hat within the next few years.

Food Movers: Rolling Refrigerators

We wouldn’t have eggs, fresh fruit, exotic fish or almost anything you find in a chilly area of the grocery store without reefers, a crucial link in today’s international food chain.

Food Movers: Can I Get That To Go?

Takeout containers have evolved way beyond paper pails and foil swans. As food delivery has become the new normal, restaurant food packaging faces tougher demands than ever before.

Food Movers: Bots in the Cold Chain

Unlike humans, bots can’t get freezer burn. That makes them especially suited to work in parts of the cold chain, where heavy lifting and freezing temps 
are standard.

Investing in Tomorrow’s Food Chain: Walter Robb Moves Forward

Walter Robb is best known as Whole Foods Market’s former co-CEO, where he helped usher in new ways of thinking about food, from farm to grocery cart. Now, after 40 years in the grocery business, he’s starting a new chapter. Leveraging his deep knowledge about the complexity of the food chain to advise and invest in innovative food system startups, Robb talked to Jane Black about how he is helping to cultivate the next generation of food revolutionaries.

Transcending Seasons: Following the Global Cold Chain

As refrigerated transportation became the norm a century ago, the cold chain was born. Defying seasons, cold chains offer consumers access to meats, fruits and vegetables year-round. More complex than a simple food chain, cold chains require refrigeration every step of the way because spoilage is ongoing — one missed link can ruin an entire shipment. Refrigeration expert Jonathan Rees explains why today’s cold chain is actually a cold web that crisscrosses the whole world.

Make Way for Public Markets?

Why don’t more urban centers feature public markets? To answer that question, we have to understand the history of public markets and our relationship to food.

The Pan in Choripàn

Ask any Argentinian if any other bread would be worthy of their chorizo, and you’ll get a grimace and denial all in one motion.

Ernesto’s Choripán Stand

The smell of sausage and spices fills the small space inside the stand, making it nearly impossible to suppress the desire for a bite of the grilled chorizo.

Can Food Be Too Local?

Killing your own meat isn’t quite like making your own cheese, drying your own jerky or fermenting your own beer.

Baker’s Holiday

January is just about the worst time to meet the owner of a bakery in Buenos Aires, or any business owner, for that matter. So Robyn was lucky to find to find a few minutes when Marcelo could show her around his small shop before he headed to the beach with his family.

Don’t Cry for Me…

A visit with the people behind the machine-heavy links in our food system can reveal much more than how the sausage gets made.

Curious About the Curiosities

In 1859, The Curiosities of Food was published in London by Peter Lund Simmonds in a quest to understand food at home and abroad.

Transporting Food Over Oceans

The use of ships to transport food begins at least with Viking and Roman ships that transported oil and wine over the ocean.

Food Preservation: It’s in the Can

Whether boxes, bags, or cans, food needs some sort of protection from the environment, and cans tell a story of multiple technologies, not all of which came together at the same time.

No Lunch Pass

Not a day goes by when we aren’t told how Big Food conspires to make us fat while exploiting our environment. Is this really the end of our debate about the state of our food system? Tyler Cowen’s book, An Economist Gets Lunch (2012), offers an alternative view, one...

Feeding Smart Cities

With more and more talk about tech-powered smart cities, what are we doing to ensure innovative food logistics are part of the conversation?

The Return of Home Economics

Long before STEM initiatives came about, home economics programs may have done more than we know to bridge the gender gap in science.

An Art Tour of Food Logistics

If you want a new experience while visiting an art museum, try going as a food logistics nerd. Watch the docents and visitor services personnel freeze for a moment as they try to comprehend your request for guidance on finding all the art in the museum that represents different aspects of the food supply chain and food logistics.

The Meat Business, Inside and Outside Ft. Worth

The Kimball Art Museum portrays a side of the meat business many visitors to Forth Worth, Texas, don’t see. If you only toured the Stockyards outside the Museum, you’d miss the preceding centuries of carnivorous history.

Waste Not

The whole topic of food waste is messy. But even without knowing the exact amount of food waste in our food system, we’d all agree that the problem could use a big solution.

On Our Loading Dock

We’re not the only ones thinking about food systems, food tech and the food supply chain. Check out these recent books, films, podcasts and other media that are making our brains buzz.

Food Movers: Robots as Farmhands

Cocktail-making and pizza-delivering bots may be a sign of the future. But the real workhorses of the food supply chain aren’t just simple-task machines. They’ve got multiple senses and big brains.

Your Food: Up for Grabs?

Robyn Metcalfe invites readers to explore changes in consumers’ experience with the food supply chain. It’s real-time evolution — in food waste, urban ag and more.

Food Movers: Lock, Stock and Barges

An ancient form of over-water food transport never phased out. From the 1400s through today, big flat boats haul food commodities from inland farms to ocean ports.

From Hoof to Highway

Cowboys driving cattle over a dusty range — it’s an iconic image for many when they think of Texas. While cross-country cattle drives are no longer the first step in the beef supply chain, the paths carved out of the land by millions of hooves left their mark on the state. Historian Jeannette Vaught reveals the legacy of Texas’ earliest traffic.

Food for Thought: Smart City Tools, Then and Now

Food technology — gizmos such as blockchain, sensors, taste algorithms, genomic tracking — is a hot topic these days, generously funded by venture capitalists. But food technology has been around for decades. Can openers, anyone?

How to Make Do in Wartime

War can bring major supply chain disruptions. Brits “made do” in World War II using rations, substitutions and frequent doses of cheery optimism from the likes of “Potato Pete.”

Seafood Traceability Nets New Benefits

High-tech tracking is everywhere in food today — from RFID tags in strawberry crates to temperature sensors in dairy shipments. Urban planner Laurie Zapalac shares a case study of new tracking tools used by Boston’s seafood industry that leverage big data to ensure food safety, sound fishery management — and to let you know who raised your oyster.

Urban Agriculture: Can it Feed Our Cities?

Technological developments in agriculture have opened up a surprising new kind of field for crops. Vertical gardens that thrive in urban warehouses and soil-free greenhouses with produce growing in hydroponic tanks bring fresh food closer to population centers. Jane Black digs into the future of farming.

Cutting Waste Across Cultures

The United Nations has proposed a goal to cut global food waste in half by 2030. Liz Goodwin, a senior fellow and director of food loss and waste at the World Resources Institute (WRI), has taken that mandate to heart. Goodwin, of all people, would know what that...

The Hunt for Food Waste

The fact that an enormous fraction of the food we produce — 30 to 40 percent, experts say — is unharvested, unsold or simply discarded isn’t new news. But you might not have heard about all the ways food waste is being transformed: from building materials to raw energy. As Ari LeVaux explains, the trick is getting it out of the waste stream to start with.

Edible Materials

Here’s some food for thought: These products are derived from food system losses in agricultural and livestock production. These materials, currently used in buildings, apparel, consumer products and packaging, lead the way in replacing fossil-fuel derivatives and other strained natural resources with rapidly renewable food waste.

Really, Really Smart Cities

Take a peek into the future through the eyes of food futurists and illustrator Josh Cochran. Drones, rooftop gardens and smart kitchens abound.

Food for Thought: Labelology

Your fruit and vegetables come with a surprising amount of information about their history and origins. Each sticker has a code printed on it along with the grower’s name and logo. In the future, be prepared for even more transparency — labels may disappear as scanners and digital “ink” become cost effective. These paper stickers will be the old papyrus scroll for food storytelling.

Recipe Tracker: Tart in Ymbre Days

Cookbooks are products of their time, reflecting flavor trends and the availability of ingredients. In “The Forme of Cury,” we get a taste of medieval England.

How a Little Startup Fixes a Big Food Chain Gap

In rural India, where dairies may have only one or two cows and the power grid is spotty at best, improving the supply chain from producers to distributors requires fresh thinking and a surprisingly simple solution. Entrepreneur Sorin Grama shares his story.

Rio’s Recipe for the Olympic Games

While many agree that the Rio Olympics fared better than the dire predictions, the reality for restaurateurs, farmers and concession managers was rough. Brazilian journalist Fabiana Pires takes us to Rio before and after the 2016 Summer Olympics to get the real story of the “Taste of the Games.”

Tsukiji on the Verge of Change

The venerable fish market known for chaotic auctions and flapping-fresh is facing a move to a controversial new location. Xaq Frohlich examines Tsukiji’s back story and looks into its future as it prepares for some needed upgrades and braces for the inevitable fallout of change.

The Early Years of Logistics

As we’ve moved farther from the farm, transparency about the food system becomes more important. To better understand a largely invisible system, we need an introduction to food logistics — starting with Alexander the Great.

Food Movers: Beasts of Burden

While they may seem like historical relics, draft animals are still used worldwide to move agricultural products from fields to markets. Check out our gallery.

Food Movers: Behind the Wheel

The image of a truck driver probably evokes a burly guy in a gimme cap. But a small number of women share the driving load: Meet Annette Womack.

Food Movers: The Secret Evolution of the Pizza Box

More than just a simple package for a steaming hot meal, the pizza box is to some a blank canvas — for food artistry and technological innovation. Join world-record-holder Scott Wiener on a journey into the history of the pizza box.

How the Bodega Gets the Banana

Have you ever wondered how bananas, such a seemingly fragile fruit, end up in so many places, at their perfect stage of ripeness for quick sale? Rachel Wharton finds out how this not-so-mini miracle happens.

Food Movers: The Pallet Puzzle

Pallets are platforms, moveable beds of sorts, for just about anything you’d want to ship. Key to their design is the ability of a forklift to pick up the pallet and whatever is sleeping on top of it and put it onto a train, truck, ship or airplane, or move it around a warehouse. Pallets are so integral to the supply chain that they are subject to scrutiny in labs. Learn more about this key part of shipping.

Food Movers: Chasing Maine Lobsters

In 2014, Maine lobstermen harvested more than 124 million pounds of lobster worth nearly half a billion dollars from Maine’s 5,000 miles of saltwater coastline. It takes the hands of thousands of workers on ships and shores to keep that supply chain moving. Spend a day in the life of a lobsterman.

Food Movers: Paper or Plastic?

Around the same time that milk cartons were gaining popularity over their glass-bottle predecessors, refrigeration was becoming mainstream. It marked a key transition in the milk chain, allowing milk to be shipped further and stored longer. Learn more about this milestone.

The City that Feeds Mexico

Many markets around the world can claim “world’s biggest (fill in the blank),” but Mexico City’s Central de Abastos takes the cake. Through the lens of photographer Jody Horton and Mexico City-based designer Blair Richardson, we learn how this megamarket works like a city unto itself.

Panama’s Big Bet on Big Ships

Infrastructure enthusiast Craig Cannon explains how the Panama Canal and U.S. Interstate System work in tandem to create one of the tightest intermodal networks in the world, and he looks at what the expansion of the canal, the first in its 100-year history, means for U.S. ports, roads and grocery carts.

Meltdown, Roman Style

Traffic is changing Italy’s most beloved dessert, writes Brooklyn-based Jill Santopietro. If a gelato owner can’t get a shipment of milk from the dairy because of a protest blocking streets or a driver’s unwillingness to pay to enter the expensive limited traffic zones, she can’t make gelato that day. Follow gelato from farm to a customer’s hand on a busy street in the city.