As consumers’ shopping habits have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sara Lozano, manager of marketing and product development for Sambrailo Packaging, says farmers have increasingly been using the company’s vegetable boxes for CSA or other similar produce box programs during shelterin- place regulations. ( Courtesy Sambrailo Packaging/Happy Acre Farm )

Find the latest news and updates on how the coronavirus COVID-19 is affecting the produce industry.

Online grocery purchasing and delivery will continue to spread, long after the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has dissipated, and the packaging industry likely will grow with it, marketers say. 

“We believe we may see a continued increase in e-commerce food sales and believe there is an opportunity for online sales of produce and other fresh products,” said Nicole Lipson, segment marketing manager with Atlanta-based box manufacturer WestRock. 

“Buy Online Pick Up in Store (BOPIS) has also been very successful for grocers.”

The flood of consumer online orders is a “major” phenomenon, and it’s not going away, said Sara Lozano, manager of marketing and product development with Watsonville, Calif.-based Sambrailo Packaging.

“The pandemic has changed our way of life and made consumers think and shop differently,” she said. 

Online grocery has become “a new norm” for some shoppers, who want to minimize exposure.

“It’s an incredible tool and service for those not able to shop in person or have loved ones pick up groceries for them,” Lozano said.  

Online shopping isn’t a new phenomenon, but its exponential growth due to COVID-19 is noteworthy, said Victoria Lopez, marketing representative with McAllen, Texas-based bag maker Fox Packaging.

“Buyer adoption of online consumer packaged goods shopping has consistently increased over the last two years, and now with the disruptions of COVID-19, industries and businesses have had to face the greatest and fastest change in buying behavior,” she said. 

“In the e-commerce space, packaging becomes all the more important as it fills the gap between the store to the consumer.”

Perhaps some online shoppers will return to their brick-and-mortar shopping routines, but others may not, said Brianna Shales, senior marketing manager with Wenatchee, Wash.-based tree fruit grower-shipper Stemilt Growers LLC.

“From what I read, it seems like the drastic increase may stop but that many shoppers will continue to purchase groceries online — maybe not every time, but more frequently than they were in the past, now that they’ve tried it,” Shales said. 

“Online grocery is going to evolve very fast in this post-pandemic world.”

Retailers likely are busy trying to figure out how to meet this changing dynamic, said Dave DeMots, CEO of Canby, Ore.-based bag manufacturer Package Containers.

“One of the things they have to figure out is how to make the operations of fulfilling the order as efficient as possible,” he said. “Many retailers are using RPCs (reusable plastic containers) as their collection device for orders.”

Package Containers has developed a new paper bag that fits four bags into an RPC, “so the retailer maximizes the space of the RPC while delivering a sustainable paper bag to the customer, instead of a bunch of single-use poly bags that don’t optimize the space within the RPC,” DeMots said.

What consumers ultimately decide about online ordering/purchasing will be of interest to the packaging industry, said Rachel Kenyon, senior vice president of the Itaska, Ill.-based Fibre Box Association.

“A lot of people may be trying online grocery shopping for the first time during the pandemic,” she said. 

“Will they be impressed by the convenience and stick with it after the pandemic recedes? Or will they be disappointed with the service and rush back into grocery stores to resume their old habits? COVID-19 created a trial period for online grocery shoppers. What they take away from it will depend on their experience.” 

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