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Feeding convenience: New ways to grocery shop

Rosanna Berardi doesn’t have time to shop these days. As the managing partner of Berardi Immigration Law, her time is, quite literally, money, and she says the introduction of the delivery-based online grocery shopping program Instacart to the region in 2017 was a game-changer.

“I’m a busy professional, I run a business and I have a 12-year-old. My whole M.O. about living is convenience,” she says. “The closest Wegmans to me is a 20-minute drive, so it saves two hours for me and I can just order when it is convenient and have what I need arrive when I get home from work.”

Berardi isn’t alone. Edward Rick, director of marketing at Tops, said there has been steady growth in the number of users that have taken advantage of Instacart since it was rolled out in Tops stores in November 2017.

“Initially we saw that the early adaptors tended to be the millennials and the Gen-Xers,” he says. “But lately, we have seen growth across all of the generational groups.”

Rick attributes that growth, in part, to an aggressive marketing campaign the chain launched in the fall to increase awareness of the program and its benefits.

“Early on, a lot of our campaign was in the digital realm, things like our social media platforms, so it made sense that the millennials were our biggest users,” Rick says. “But beginning in October, we launched a full-scale marketing program that includes television, broadcast radio and in-store signage, so we expect our numbers to continue to grow as more people are aware of the program.”

He says Tops has closely tracked customer response to Instacart, and that the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Our customers are long on stress and short on time, so this service offers them the ease and convenience to shop in a way that works for them,” he says.

Like Tops, Wegmans added Instacart, both as a delivery service and a curbside pick-up program, in 2017. Michele Mehaffy, Buffalo Consumer Affairs Manager for Wegmans, said it’s a service that’s been a long-time coming.

“We actually dabbled in the idea of curbside pick-up back in 2001 with a pilot program in Rochester,” she says. “While it was somewhat successful, the feedback we got from customers is that they still really enjoyed shopping in our stores, and looking back, it was just kind of an idea before its time.”

Mehaffy says consumer habits have changed considerably since 2001, and the addition of Instacart came from listening to customer feedback from folks who wanted this kind of option. But she adds that’s in additional service, not a replacement for shopping in-store.

“We know customers also love being in our stores as well, so we will always provide the incredible customer service and in-store experience Wegmans is known for,” she says.

Mehaffy says the program debuted in the Virginia market in early 2017, but the addition of curbside pick-up began here in Western New York.

“Buffalo was actually our pilot market for the curbside Instacart,” she says. “A lot of customers have really embraced that choice because it saves them time on shopping, but also saves them money on the delivery charges.”

While it is touted for its convenience, the added cost of a program like Instacart is not inconsequential. Mehaffy points to curbside as one way to find the middle ground between cost and convenience, but for Berardi and shoppers like her, it comes down to deciding how much their time is worth.

“People argue, and I have to agree, that it’s pricey,” Berardi says of the delivery service, which includes a mark-up on the total cost of the groceries, as well as a separate delivery charge. “But at the end of the day, the extra money it is costing me is worth it in terms of the convenience.”

Still, will an upscale grocery delivery program continue to fare well in a price-conscious community like Buffalo?

Walker Dieckmann, regional manager for Instacart in New York State, said they came into Buffalo with high expectations.

“Buffalo was one of our fastest-growing regions right out of the gate,” he says. “Our team has grown significantly in Buffalo over the last year to meet that need.”

Dieckmann says following the fast start, Buffalo has continued to show steady growth as Instacart adds more stores in the market and more shoppers try out the program for the first time.

“Every fall we see a big jump in growth, and Buffalo has been no different,” he says. “We have welcomed many new customers into the fold over the last few weeks and we expect that to continue.”

At the end of the day, programs like Instacart aren’t for everyone. For example, it may not work for shoppers who like to hand-select the perfect bunch of bananas or sort through bushels of corn in search of the optimum ear, but Berardi says she happily trades that control for the convenience.

“I really don’t care about the texture of my tomatoes enough to go to Wegmans for two hours on a Sunday.”

Home cooking without the hassle

At the end of a long day, the last thing you want to think about is what’s for dinner. Eat it, sure. But thinking about what you're cooking, and hoping you have all of the ingredients? Not so much.

Enter meal delivery services such as Blue Apron, Home Chef or HelloFresh. With a few clicks of your mouse, meal delivery services will drop a box at your door weekly, containing every ingredient (and instructions) to prepare a gourmet meal.

While a case can be made that utilizing a meal delivery service can be pricey (and it can be), most have a variety of plans and pricing options, and proponents point to the money saved by eliminating food waste as an upside.

“Our plans start at $6.99 per serving (plus shipping), which is certainly less than going out to dinner or ordering takeout,” says Kim Straus of HelloFresh. “(Our) sweet spot is busy consumers who are looking for weeknight dinners. Our meals take around 30 minutes (to prepare) from start to finish.”

Those interested in giving meal delivery a try should do their homework. Prices and options vary considerably from plan to plan and there are deals to be had for repeat business. For example, Blue Apron charges $7.99 for shipping dinner for two if you order two meals per week. But, add a third meal and the shipping charges disappear. Plus, many offer incentives for first-time buyers so you can try them out with less commitment.

Like the grocery delivery programs, meal delivery is focused on saving the consumer time, but also on creating more than just a meal.

“We focus on the whole experience, rather than the final plate of food,” said Straus.

**Related read: Self care tips with a local twist

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