Food shopping. Tedious and time-consuming for some, it has become a source of stress and anxiety for others during this Covid-19 period. But things are changing. Just as we have water, electricity and internet access providers, tomorrow we could have food access providers. It’s a small revolution that shifts the burden of filling the shopping trolley from the customer to the distributor.

Although the ritual of food shopping is indispensable, in the age of artificial intelligence, data, ecological emergency and the recent Covid-19 crisis, it remains seen as a constraint and enslavement. Distributors are increasingly trying to bring flexibility and convenience, drawing on the subscription model and even transforming themselves into “food access providers.”

What will the next revolution in food shopping be?

A little more than a year ago JOW appeared. The app combines recipe ideas and shopping baskets to end the eternal question of “What’s for supper tonight?”. It is beneficial for those who want to put an end to the mental burden of filling up the fridge. Since then, other initiatives have reinforced this scheme with the help of connected objects, the automation of delivery systems and the expansion of collaborative platforms. These are certainly promising advances which, buoyed on by the coronavirus epidemic and new players, could well shake up Saturday’s sacrosanct shopping crowds..

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What if we talked about shopping subscriptions again?

While it’s a dream formula for many retailers, food shopping subscription still hasn’t found its definitive model. Whilst it works well for certain basic commodities (such as Amazon’s nappy delivery subscription), it still has two major problems: lack of diversity and flexibility (who wants to eat the same thing every week? And how do you handle dinner invitations and other last-minute contingencies?) and, of course, the cost.

On this last point, PICNIC, a Dutch online supermarket seems to have found the solution…

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PICNIC is revolutionising online food shopping.

Created in 2015, this new kind of supermarket is increasingly successful. Its secret? There are no physical shops, just an app connected to 25 distribution centres throughout the Netherlands, and most importantly, truly free delivery. No subscriptions, no hidden fees, no taxes on products… on the contrary, products sold are at the same (or sometimes cheaper) prices as those in shops. How is it possible? It’s simple. PICNIC relies on a model that you might call a “bus route” where other competitors prefer a “taxi” model. In short, instead of spreading itself thinly in order to deliver everywhere, the supermarket chooses optimised delivery routes which allows it to save a lot of money. To become a PICNIC customer, you must live along a delivery route or wait until a new one is created… a bit like fibre and the internet. Not only is it a great concept, people really like it! It has already attracted 275,000 households in the Netherlands and is beginning to set up in Germany. It’s even, quite rightly, causing concern for the bricks and mortar competitors. On average, they lose between €40,000 and €80,000 with the arrival of a PICNIC delivery route in their catchment area. 

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Subscription shopping or the “food access provider” model.

So much more convenient. This may be, in addition to price and choice, the differentiating criteria for any good distributor. The industry players know this, because they are constantly innovating in this direction. Recently in the USA, AMAZON tested delivering groceries directly to its subscribers’ refrigerators via a secure, electronic door-unlock system using qualified delivery drivers. More recently, and in response to the coronavirus crisis, one brand has even launched a site called LES ESSENTIALS. The principle: shopping baskets, available in drive-thru or delivery, already prepared and made up of an assortment of fruits, vegetables, cooked meals and other groceries. The offer, starting at €5/day/person, ensures the three daily meals. For the time being, we don’t know if this scheme will last beyond the epidemic. But, like PICNIC, it raises two key questions: by reasoning and rationalising shopping, aren’t distributors depriving themselves of the impulse buying and last minute “on a whim” purchases that generate business? Most importantly, will they find a way to counter the movement to cut out the middleman led by web brands? The answer is undoubtedly in our shopping baskets!

Crédits photos : JOW, PIC-NIC, iStock