Data shows some surprises in online grocery

08/23/2013 10:35:00 AM
Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson, EditorGreg Johnson, EditorCHICAGO — One of my favorite things about the transition from print-based news to digital is that we know so much more about our readers.

Of course print still has value, but we never know for sure when, how much or how many of our subscribers are reading. But online, we know just about everything: when they clicked on a story, how long they read it, where they came from, where they went, what kind of device they read it on, etc.

Some findings were exactly as we expected at The Packer, but some were unexpected, and it has changed the way we cover the news of the produce industry, such as making our stories easier to read on smartphones.

The same is true of consumers buying groceries.

Retailers know so much more about consumers when they order online.

Online retail workshop

I had a lot of my preconceived notions challenged at the Aug. 20 workshop “Competing in the Online Retail Market” at our second-annual Midwest Produce Conference and Expo in Chicago.

I moderated the panel that featured Bill Bishop, chief architect of Barrington-based Brick Meets Click and Willard Bishop Consulting; Drew Schwartzhoff, Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson’s director of marketing and sourcing; and Tony Stallone, vice president of merchandising and food safety for Skokie-based online grocer Peapod, a subsidiary of Royal Ahold, Netherlands.

I figured hearty produce items would be most popular, but Stallone said strawberries in 1-pound clamshells are the No. 6 most purchased item online by units and No. 1 by dollars.

Also by dollar sales, organic strawberries, yellow bananas (as opposed to green) and red seedless grapes were ranked 5-7.

Stallone said consumers trust that stores will deliver good-quality items, which I did not expect.

He also said organic produce sales online continue to grow. In 2012, organic made up almost 23% of all produce sales for Peapod, compared to about 5% of overall produce sales.

Another statistic that surprised me was that the average online order was more than $160.

All these things surprised me until I thought about them a little more critically. If I lived in a big city and ordered groceries online, I would certainly include fresh produce, and I’d probably buy a lot.


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