After getting off her overnight shift, Tonya Thomas stopped by her neighborhood Publix on Cortez Road early Wednesday morning to pick up a cup of hot coffee.
Normally, though, for any of her bigger grocery shopping needs, she would place her order online, and have Publix, through Instacart, deliver it to her home.
“I trust Publix to bring me my groceries,” said Thomas, one of a growing number of consumers who like the convenience of shopping online with Publix, Winn Dixie, Aldi, Whole Foods Market, Walmart or other brands.
Sandy Galanis was making her way down aisle four of the same store early Wednesday morning, after her fitness class.
Galanis said she has never shopped for groceries online, but she was intrigued by the convenience of the idea.
Other customers say online shopping is not for them, and that they would rather select their own produce.
Although many customers prefer to examine the potatoes and onions themselves, there is a real consumer appetite for online ordering, said industry analyst Neil Saunders, retail managing director for GlobalData.
“I think online ordering is picking up very strongly,” Saunders told the Bradenton Herald in a phone interview from New York recently.
Online ordering represents a new challenge and a new opportunity for supermarkets, where profit margins are very thin, Saunders said.
Several supermarket chains doing business in Florida have recently failed, including Earth Fare and Lucky’s Market, both of which targeted a higher-end shopper with their organic and healthy food choices.
Online ordering has become a challenge for the grocery industry, Saunders said.
“I think by virtue of its scale, Walmart is the leader. It has had some very fast growth,” Saunders said.
A player that bears watching is Amazon.
Recently, Amazon advertised for a senior financial analyst, and asked applicants: “Do you want to be part of one of Amazon’s top strategic businesses?,” adding, “Amazon Fresh/Prime Now is building the future of online grocery shopping.”
Amazon’s Whole Foods Market does not have a store in Manatee County, but does have two in Sarasota County, including one at the intersection of University Parkway and Honore Avenue.
Even though Amazon acquired Whole Foods, Saunders does not believe the industry giant has yet cracked the grocery code.
“The results have been a little lackluster,” he said.
Where the service is available, Amazon offers free two-hour delivery with Prime.
Amazon did not respond to a Herald request for information on its online grocery operation.
Publix and Aldi were more forthcoming.
“Online ordering and delivery is a great way to offer convenience to our customers. We offer online ordering and delivery in a variety of options,” Brian West, a corporate spokesman for Publix, wrote in an email.
“Customers can order sliced meats and cheeses, subs, platters and more online, and then pickup in the store. Customers can also order online and have items delivered by InstaCart. We recently began a pilot for Meals To Go, which is meals that are ready to eat, and they’re available at curbside. Meals To Go gives us the ability to compete with restaurants offering convenient meals for our customers,” West said.
Asked about the failure of Earth Fare and Lucky’s Market, West wrote, “The grocery industry is highly competitive. Anytime a competitor vacates the market it creates opportunities for others to gain their business, hire their associates and possibly even acquire their sites.”
Matt Thon, Aldi Haines City division vice president, wrote in an email that Aldi has launched a nationwide partnership with Instacart to make grocery shopping even easier for its growing customer base. Aldi has four grocery stores in Manatee County.
“Now 99 percent of Aldi Stores offer online grocery delivery through Instacart. We also offer wine and beer delivery through Instacart, and the service is available nationwide, where permitted by state and local laws,” he wrote. “ Visit shop.aldi.us to learn more.”
Thon also addressed the organic food sector.
“We offer organic products like bananas, tomatoes, avocados, apples and salad mixes, and our Simply Nature line has organic milk, almond butter and salsa, just to name a few. We’ve more than doubled our organic product offerings since they were first introduced and sales have nearly quadrupled. Our organic produce prices are among the most competitive in the grocery industry,” he wrote.
“Our organic products have an easy-to-spot ‘USDA organic’ seal on the packaging, and we guarantee they’re as good as or better than name brands,” he wrote.
San Francisco-based Instacart offers online ordering and delivery for several brands in the Bradenton-Sarasota area. In addition to Publix and Aldi, Instacart also serves shoppers at Costco, Target, Winn Dixie, BJs, The Fresh Market, Sam’s Club, and more.
Instacart customers pay $99 a year for the express service. With Instacart Express, the delivery fee for orders over $35 is waived, and a 5 percent service charge is reduced to 1.9 percent. Instacart service is also available for a fee by order. For more information, visit https://www.instacart.com/.
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