Taking back time

Departments - Edible Insights

Businesses are offering options to consumers who want to save time acquiring groceries and meals.

March 25, 2019

Grocery delivery is a popular way that customers can cut the amount of time they spend shopping.
Photo: Adobe Stock

I started off my Sunday morning by picking up my phone, which had buzzed at me at 6:15 a.m. It wasn’t an alarm going off, but rather a text notification alerting me that my Whole Foods shopper had started working on my grocery order I’d placed the night before, with a delivery window of 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. While I enjoyed a rare moment snuggled up in my bed with coffee, reading for pleasure, someone else was doing my grocery shopping. Total bliss.

Let me start by saying that for the most part I’m a down-to-earth gal who likes to get her hands dirty and who embraces a DIY lifestyle. I’m an avid gardener who grows a lot of organic food, both outdoors and indoors. I keep chickens and bees. I place a high value on clean, healthy food. I also really like to cook. That said, I’m also a technophile who runs a busy company, with very limited time on my hands. I also hate grocery shopping. It’s not that I don’t enjoy grocery stores, but grocery shopping always feels like the sort of task I don’t really have time for. I can always think of something else more productive I could be doing with that two hours. I don’t mind spending two hours in the kitchen, but I don’t want to do the shopping beforehand. Time is my pain point.

My husband, on the other hand, loves driving around for errands and has no problem going to the grocery store for me — mostly because it scores him points and makes him think it will get him out of being assigned some other domestic task he doesn’t want to do. (You’d think after 26 years he’d realize resistance is futile.) Having spent time as a grocery stock boy, he also happens to love grocery stores. So, a few years ago I retired from going to the grocery store and we started using a shared OneNote digital notebook on our phones. I would make grocery lists, and he would head off to the store and check off the items as he got them. Easy. The only problem was, I couldn’t always get him to go to the store on my schedule. He’s since been replaced with an Amazon Prime Whole Foods shopper and delivery person. It’s $20 well spent.

I’ve been teased with many different grocery delivery programs here in Dallas over the years, all coming and going in what seemed like a blink of an eye. Every time a new service would pop up, I’d get super excited and place my first order for delivery. By the time I’d be ready to place a second order, the service was shut down. Plus, I often couldn’t get groceries from where I wanted, which specifically meant limited or no access to organic produce.

When Amazon bought Whole Foods (something I can’t say I was happy about) I was at least intrigued by the opportunity to get my organic groceries shipped and delivered. After having used the service many times now — with only a handful of small issues — I can say that I hope it sticks around. For a busy multitasker such as myself, being able to tap out a quick grocery order on my phone while I’m still working, and have it delivered to my door when I get home, is a dream.

Amazon is taking its tech a step further by outfitting brick and mortar stores with digital features that replace cashiers: automatic scanning as customers cart their selections, and automatic inventory stocking data delivered on the back end. It looks like Microsoft and Kroger are also jumping in with their own “smart stores” to compete with Amazon on that front. While I can say I love shopping digitally from my computer or phone, I do not enjoy self-checkouts at grocery stores. Inevitably, something goes awry. I think they’ll still need to make sure people have others to turn to when technology fails during a live shopping experience.

Customers also want the same digital on-demand services when it comes to their takeout. The handful of times I’ve used services such as Uber Eats, I’ve had mixed results, and even orders completely dropped. When we do get takeout, my husband usually prefers to go pick it up himself. That’s where new services such as Tyme TakeTech are coming in handy. These are cubby/locker systems installed at restaurants who use the services, that allow staff to place ready-to-go meals in temperature-controlled cubbies. The customer simply picks up their order from the cubby when they arrive. That means less time waiting around in line to pick up your order.

While part of the farmers market experience is, well, the experience of attending the market, time is still of the essence for many customers. Parking alone can be a nightmare at big city markets and is often a deterrent for me to visit in-person as often as I’d like. Come to think of it, I’d love more access to digital ordering and delivery of locally grown produce from farmers markets. Perhaps the Tyme TakeTech option, or something similar, could also work in this context.

The bottom line is that customers want access to quality produce and organic foods, but they also want their time back. If we want to encourage consumers to get back in the kitchen and spend time prepping and cooking produce, we need to cut the time it takes to acquire it.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com