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Supermarkets’ Best Weapon Against E-tailers: Produce

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Tomatoes from the Green City Farmers Market
Tomatoes from the Green City Farmers Market

Like so many other tech-centric new businesses, online grocery is a major topic, and yet it seems few people actually use the service.

While Wal-Mart and other retailers, including Ahold USA and Meijer Inc., are pouring money into ramping up online sales, the grocers are also buckling down on the basics of the produce department. That’s because high-quality fruits, vegetables and other fresh foods are emerging as a physical store’s best defense against growing competition from Amazon.com Inc.

Many customers decide where to shop based on the quality of the produce, and—for now—most shoppers want to pick their own ripe tomatoes or perfectly green heads of lettuce, say grocers and industry researchers. Shoppers who don’t buy groceries online most often cite the desire to pick their own produce as the reason, according to an online survey from Morgan Stanley earlier this year.

Online food and beverage sales are growing fast, up 20% since 2013, but still make up a tiny 0.16% of the $670 billion food and beverage market, according to Commerce Department figures. Only 4% of consumers said they purchased some produce through online grocers in the past year, a 2015 Nielsen survey found.

Produce also is often part of “fill-in” trips, those moments a shopper dashes to the store for a last-minute ingredient and might not wait for an online order. Produce itself isn’t usually a big moneymaker, but it draws people to stores to buy higher-margin packaged food, apparel, electronics and other items—products customers increasingly are buying online. Even Amazon wants part of the valuable market. It plans to build small stores that sell perishable foods and allow shoppers to order shelf-stable items for same-day delivery, say people familiar with the matter.

Improving Wal-Mart’s fresh food is “a huge priority for us because it’s a big traffic driver,” says Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer for Wal-Mart U.S. in a March call with investors.

(click here to continue reading Supermarkets’ Best Weapon Against E-tailers: Produce – WSJ.)

Speaking strictly for myself, I’ve tried ordering from Instacart twice. The first time, everything came as if I had picked it myself, but the second time, the produce was sub-par. All of it. Brown spots on lettuce, bruised avocados, moldy tomatoes, mushy cucumbers, etc. So I’ve never ordered from them again, and probably never will. When it comes to grocery delivery, if it isn’t perfect, forget it. I have less than zero tolerance for mistakes. A few years prior, I had an account with a local company that delivered farmers market produce, but again, after a few bad deliveries, I cancelled my service, and have not ordered from them again. In the winter months, I sometimes use Peapod, but I tend to only buy staples like pasta, paper towels, cat litter, and bottles of wine, and don’t purchase much produce because items that are delivered are often less than ideal.

A fan of Peapod
A fan of Peapod

Time willing, I would much rather go to a farmers market or a local grocery store and carefully pick my own vegetables and fruits. 

Written by Seth Anderson

October 17th, 2016 at 3:04 pm

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