World Expo Milan 2015

World Expo Milan 2015
June 9, 2015 John McCallum

More regularly associated with designer fashion and football this year Milan is the home of food and drink across the world as it hosts the World Expo with its theme of ‘Feeding The Planet – Energy For Life’.

With over 140 different countries involved and taking up over 1.1 million sq metres the World Expo is a truly vast undertaking and frankly impossible to see in one day. Accessing the site is straightforward as the Milan subway runs directly to its door on the outskirts of the city however wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll be doing a lot of walking when you arrive.

With its focus on food and drink this Expo attempts to tell a number of stories as well as act as a showcase for various countries and products. Some work better than others as you might expect. The huge Zero pavilion for example is visually stunning but didn’t fully engage me as well as some others did. For me the most eye-catching and imaginative pavilion was the Future Food District. As the name suggests this is a working supermarket of the future. Created by a director at MIT if you can imagine crossing your local supermarket with the film Minority Report you might have some idea how it looks at works. At first glance it resembles a modern supermarket however if you even point at a product a barrage of information appears on clear screens between the isles. This information takes in everything from size, weight and price to complementary products, allergy info and carbon footprint. The combination of technology and usability is impressive, situated in a familiar environment like a supermarket only enhances this. How much of this technology is ever likely to filter its way down to everyday use is debateable, but certainly it wouldn’t surprise me to see it in some of the premium food halls in the future. While information like the product’s carbon footprint was interesting I couldn’t help but feel that telling me it was part of a BOGOF or some other offer was much more likely to make me buy it. Small quibbles aside it’s impressive and genuinely innovative.

We visited both the Irish and the United Kingdom pavilions. The Irish one was a little disappointing. It was informative, focussing mainly on farming and associated quality control and it was easy to follow, but when compared to most of the other countries present it wasn’t the most imaginative layout or memorable design. Also there was nothing to taste or buy, an opportunity missed when 20 million people are expected to visit. There was nothing wrong with it, it just didn’t hold up well against most of the other pavilions, some of which were works of art frankly.

The United Kingdom pavilion was actually very good, much better than I’d expected. Using the journey of a bee and pollination as its basis it weaved a number of food and drink stories as well as innovation and R&D. It was also visually stunning, combining a wild flower meadow and an enormous modern sculpture to great effect. It had a shop selling both food and drink as well as some other branded merchandise, this was popular on a day when the temperature hit 31 degrees. Clearly the UK pavilion had a big budget and judging by their choice of drinks to promote and sell Diageo might have contributed to that in some way. Clearly the UK is much more than fish and chips, Pimms, Johnnie Walker and Lagavulin, but taken in its entirety it was an impressive and memorable experience.

According to my phone I walked nearly 20kms when I was there and even then it was impossible to visit every pavilion. Some really caught the eye though, the exterior of Ecuador and Angola literally stopped you in your tracks, the USA had some lovely flourishes on theirs and, surprisingly for me, Iran had the nicest graphics I saw all day.

How good the Expo will be for ‘business’ is difficult to gauge. It certainly stimulates conversation and thinking and I expect Milan’s hotels will experience a fillip but beyond that I’m not sure. If the hot weather keeps up then Pimms might feel that benefit too.

Expo Logo



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