by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
At one point, 45 states had lockdowns. As a result, more Americans than ever began ordering groceries online, either for delivery or pick up.
While most shopping habits have changed toward the internet, with almost 40% of electronic sales, and 30% of apparel, grocery shopping was only 1 to 3% online. Like most, we have preferred to touch the avocados and shake the cantaloupes. A challenge has been that online retailers ship from warehouses, designed for rapid pickup, but grocery stores are designed for browsing and impulse buying.
As a result of the virus, it is now expected that online grocery shopping will rise from the current 3% to double digits in the near future. If you still subscribe to a daily newspaper (a must for Carol to read while enjoying her morning coffee), you have seen where the weekly grocery advertisement has gotten smaller or even biweekly. As grocery companies shift marketing dollars to online marketing and promotion, they encourage you to add one more item to your virtual shopping cart. Today, I look at some of the ways grocery shopping has changed and is changing.
Before working on this article, I had very little knowledge of Instacart. It is the largest independent grocery online ordering and delivery service and provides service to Hy-Vee, Schuck’s, Aldi, County Market and even Binny’s. Since the start of the virus, their order volume has increased 150% and downloads of their app have multiplied seven fold. In response, they set out to hire 300,000 personal shoppers and as of last week were searching for another 200,000.
Liquor sales: It appears we are drinking more alcohol. Unable to visit bars and restaurants since we started hunkering down, consumers are purchasing more liquor and in larger sizes. According to “Beverage Dynamics,” consumers are buying 30 packs of beer, more box wine, and 1.75 ml bottles of vodka. There is less experimentation and now it is back to basics, purchasing brands we know and trust. Also gaining in strength at the local liquor stores are curbside and delivery.
The people at Schnuck’s provided me some of the steps they have been taking during this time period. For everyone’s safety, all of their employees are wearing masks, and there is signage at store entrances encouraging customers to do this same. In the early days of the pandemic, customer traffic was very heavy: they told me shoppers had multiple carts and it was like the holidays every day. To help with this sudden increase in customers they ramped up on hiring. Companywide, they hired more than 1,500 temporary teammates during the pandemic. Plexiglass barriers have been installed at check lanes and service counters. There is new floor signage reminding us to abide by a recommended six foot distancing, plus arrows for one way aisles that I find myself sometimes forgetting. One new change I like is having one line to access all the store cashiers. In the past, it was always my luck to get behind the person that forgot to purchase their bananas or needed a price check. In addition, customers are no longer allowed to bring in their own reusable bags. To help control the number of customers Schuck’s has an online site that will advise you if there is a wait to enter the store.
Some people feel the virus will once again give rise to the small service oriented specialized stores. One store I have featured in the past is Food Fantasy on Wabash. Similar to many others stuck at home, I got the bread machine out last March and am now preparing a healthy wheat loaf. Initially, all the large grocery stores were out of wheat flour and I was able to find a bag of King Arthur at Food Fantasy. Lyndsay, Food Fantasy manager, told me that all their employees are wearing masks, and they also have seen shoppers making larger purchases and more in the morning. Lyndsay feels “people during this time are giving more thought to how they can adopt a healthier lifestyle which includes their diet.” I had forgotten that the store carried organic wine and craft beers and sales are up for both. Curbside pickup is available and customers can order by calling the store 217-793-8009 or sending an email to email@example.com (Lyndsay asks that you call ahead to let them know that are emailing an order, “just so we get to it promptly.”
Some general grocery shopping trends:
• Shoppers are making fewer trips to the store. One study reported we are making 52% fewer trips than before the pandemic. In the past I was at the store almost daily purchasing last minute items or a roasted chicken; we are now down to once a week.
• People are stocking up and planning for when they do shop. The era of browsing through the aisles is over for now. The list on the refrigerator has become our guide for shopping and menu planning. With fewer trips, comes purchasing more when we finally do go.
• So long to samples, and salad/olive bars. It is all about decreasing touch points and limiting cross contamination.
• We are purchasing longer lasting produce (oranges, lemons, potatoes) and more pre-packaged produce.
• Frozen, comfort foods, and canned foods are selling through the roof. Have you have noticed that the frozen food aisles are looking emptier? When the “farm to table” and “buy local” movement started, frozen and canned foods got a bad rap. But now, they have come back in popularity; fortunately, we still have Farmers Markets in the area to buy local and fresh.
• According to Nielsen, Americans are increasingly buying snacks for stress-eating — like potato chips and chocolate. I had trouble finding my favorite Milano cookies.
Many see the rise of online shopping stores to make online delivery more efficient with grocery fulfillment centers. One thing is for sure, when this virus comes under control, (hopefully sooner than later) grocery shopping will have changed. For the future, there will still be grocery stores, but an increase in shopping via online carts, rather than with the physical grocery store shopping cart. Also, there will be a rise in specialty stores and someone dropping off staples and nonperishables at our door just like the Wanzer milkman did when I was growing up.
Did you know that during a typical baseball season fans consume 2.3 million pounds of Virginia peanuts? To help them, I have included a New York Times recipe for peanut butter cookies. Visit the New York Times website for a shopping list, substitution ingredients, and nutritional information.
Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes approximately 45 cookies
2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup roasted salted peanuts
½ pound (2 sticks) salted butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup extra-crunchy peanut butter
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Adjust oven rack to low center position. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Place peanuts in a food processor and pulse until the texture of bread crumbs. Set aside.
In bowl of electric mixer or by hand, beat butter until creamy. Add sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping sides as necessary. Then beat in crunchy peanut butter until fully incorporated, followed by eggs and vanilla. Gently stir dry ingredients into peanut butter mixture. Fold in ground peanuts just until incorporated.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop dough onto sheet in spoonfuls a little bigger than a golf ball, about two inches apart. Dip a fork in cold water and then press the back into dough, repeating to make a crisscross.
Bake until cookies are puffed and slightly brown along edges, but not top, 11 to 12 minutes. They will not look completely baked. Cool cookies on cookie sheet until set, about 3 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.