Another side of the e-revolution is virtual stores that allow passengers to order groceries from screens or smartphone apps and code scanners. Tesco and Peapod have had some success with these in subway and rail stations, Coupe said: Tesco in Seoul, South Korea, and Peapod in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Connecticut’s Fairfield County.
Wal-Mart has operated virtual stores — albeit not for food items — in vacant mall spaces during Christmas season, Coupe said. “Retailers can do that too ... even with produce,” he said.
Still, Coupe said, e-commerce is not the only way retailers can benefit from technology. Another is displaying produce information on screens or tablets in stores, since digital media, as he sees it, could outperform produce department personnel there.
Workshop participants said digital’s power is far from fully realized, and its growth will hasten change.
By digital or whatever means, Coupe said, brick-and-mortar retailers must find ways to make shopping more appealing than looking at a cell phone.
For growers, digital offers a chance to bypass the traditional retail segment and reach consumers directly, Furphy said, a profitable strategy for locally grown. But growers can’t expect companies like Amazon to ease up on the cost pressures they feel now from traditional retailers.