A recent poll by Gallup shows that the 84 percent of U.S. adults say they “never” buy groceries online, and 89 percent never order meal kits. By contrast, 81 percent say that they shop for groceries in person at a store at least once a week. (Hat tip: Food Dive)
The Gallup poll reinforces other studies which found that people like to shop for groceries in-store so that they can see and touch them. But it also highlights two trends to watch: meal kits’ continued shift away from mail order, and the transformation of grocery stores into curbside fulfillment centers.
We’ve been skeptics of mail order meal kits for some time, so seeing Gallup’s statistic that 89 percent of respondents never ordering a meal kit isn’t that surprising. Look at the current meal kit landscape: Home Chef is owned by Kroger, Plated is owned by Albertsons, Chef’d abruptly shut down last month, and its assets were purchased to focus on retail. Even stalwarts like Blue Apron and HelloFresh are both rolling out retail strategies.
Part of this is because mail order meal kits deny people the convenience that they want. According to research by Acosta and Technomic, 85 percent of U.S. diners decide what to eat for dinner the day of, which is why placing meal kits in grocery store aisles makes more sense than requiring people to pre-order meals days (or weeks) in advance. People in the grocery store can grab what they want to eat that night — no pre-planning required.
For meal kit companies looking to make the move to retail, however, it might already be too late. As mentioned, Krogers and Albertsons own their own meal kit companies, but they’re far from the only ones: Amazon makes its their own meal kits, Walmart has started to. On a smaller scale, regional grocery stores like New Seasons are getting in on the action, too. There’s only so much grocery shelf space, and a retailer is probably going to promote its own branded kit over a third party’s.
Meanwhile, the in-store shopping experience is going through its own transition. Large grocery stores are starting to be outfitted with robotic micro-fulfillment centers and expanded drive-through pick up options. Alert Innovation is building out such a center for Walmart and Takeoff will announce its first in-store robot operation later this year. These fast, automated centers inside local grocery stores will allow for online grocery order pickup within a half hour to better fit in with people’s busy schedules of errand running or grabbing something on the way home from work.
Additionally, the ability to pick up items in person allows people to inspect their purchases on the spot for quality and freshness — and return something if necessary — while still at the store. They get the convenience of ordering online, the ability to pick up while already out (without having to wait at home for a delivery window), and the power to make adjustments before heading home.
But wait, Gallup said people aren’t buying groceries online. That’s correct… for now! If you look at the demographic break down, 14 percent of adults with children under 18 and 12 percent of adults aged 35 – 54 order groceries online. Compare that to the 8 percent of people 55 and older who buy groceries on the web. And sure, only 9 percent of adults aged 18 – 34 purchase groceries online (they are mostly ordering takeout), but this is a generation being raised on digital convenience.
If these demographic trends hold true, it seems like as though as younger generations age up and start families, the number of people comfortable with ordering groceries online will grow.
With all these changes, I’m looking forward to seeing the same Gallup poll five years from now.