Many people who shop for groceries online include fresh produce in their virtual carts.
The Packer recently surveyed more than 1,500 consumers about online grocery and produce. Among those respondents who had shopped for groceries online in the last 60 days, more than half had purchased fresh produce items as part of those orders. Most significantly, 90% of that group said they planned to buy online again in the future.
For more stats from our survey, head over to the first part of this article. Stay here for comments from Walmart, Albertsons, Rouses Markets, Tops Friendly Markets and Raley's about how they are handling produce in the context of online grocery.
“Produce is one of our most popular categories online,” said Chris Wilcox, vice president of communications for Albertsons.
“Our customers trust us because we pride ourselves on selling high-quality produce," Wilcox said. "Albertsons Cos. trains its e-commerce team members on how to select the produce carefully to ensure quality, optimal freshness and ripeness.”
When people order through Albertsons for delivery and pickup service, dedicated personal shoppers from Albertsons make the selections for orders.
“We’ve been in the home delivery business for some time, and we know it well,” Wilcox said. “We have many customers who shop frequently, so we can build great relationships. Also, all customers can give order comments for specific requests. If a customer wants their bananas a little green, we will select them the way they request.”
Albertsons recently expanded its partnership with Takeoff Technologies, which builds micro-fulfillment centers to pick out items for online orders. How produce is handled in a Takeoff micro-fulfillment center depends on the preference of the retailer, said co-founder and CEO Jose Aguerrevere.
“We do offer different picking methods within the (micro-fulfillment center) in order to manage the complex needs of different products,” Aguerrevere said. “We have a fully automated section which includes ambient and chilled products, where several produce items can be stored. We also have a smaller manual picking section, where grocers typically store more delicate produce. This produce is hand-picked by store employees who can perform a quality check while picking and guarantee their freshness standards.”
Tops Friendly Markets
Jessica Albano, e-commerce marketing specialist for Tops Friendly Markets, said 64% of recent e-commerce orders for the company’s stores included produce.
“We expect this percentage to continue to grow as customers become more accustomed to ordering their groceries online,” Albano said.
Tops partners with Instacart to fulfill and deliver online grocery orders.
“Instacart trains their shoppers on how to pick out the freshest produce and shoppers are able to communicate with their shopper to help ensure they get the exact items they desire,” Albano said. “For example, a customer can place an order of bell peppers and request that they are all female peppers; a customer could also request bananas that are more green than yellow.”
Rob Ybarra, director of produce for Rouses Markets, said the representation of produce in online grocery baskets has grown impressively.
How stores fulfill online orders depend on which service the customer is using; pickup orders are fulfilled by store personnel, and delivery orders are fulfilled by a third party.
Ybarra projects that the growth of online grocery around the industry will likely push stores to offer more packaged product and less bulk.
“I expect that we will be more packaged- and tray-driven and less bulk-driven,” Ybarra said. “In the era of online, self-help checkouts, and the growth of organics, the scan bar has become more and more consequential in our buying decisions.”
Michael Schutt, produce merchant for Raley’s, said stores fill online orders with their own personnel and then use a third-party service for delivery.
“Produce is an important component to online,” Schutt said. “We know this is where customers resist trying online because they want to select items based on quality.
“We prioritize the personalized relationship with customers to perfect their order,” Schutt said. “We ask customers to leave comments on their product orders to tell us if they want green bananas or ripe avocados. We also have a text or phone call relationship with each customer.”
Early in 2019, market intelligence firm Numerator studied a year of Walmart click-and-collect trips and found that online grocery pickup generated more dollars than in-store pickup for the company even though online grocery pickup accounted for a much smaller percentage of trips than in-store pickup.
The average spend for an online grocery pickup order at Walmart was $121.44, compared to just $35.49 for an in-store pickup order.
Numerator reported that 70% of the online grocery pickup trips included fresh produce. For those orders, average produce share of basket is 12.1%, according to the firm. In addition, the average basket with fresh produce is 25.4% larger than without.
A year later, produce continues to play a key role in Walmart’s online grocery basket.
“Produce is one of the fastest-growing segments of our online grocery business,” Ross Farnsworth, senior directorof global food sourcing for the Southeast for Walmart, said in early January at the Global Organic Produce Expo.
“It all starts, though, with having the right quality and it being in stock and being competitive – it all has to work," Farnsworth said. "And so as we’ve improved – we started this journey probably about five years ago in produce at Walmart – we know we were at the bottom, and we’re still not even close to our competitors, but that’s our opportunity. And so as we focus in on just the basic fundamentals of selling produce, that naturally translates to a great experience online, so it all kind of works together.”