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Online ordering — either for delivery or curbside pickup — has become commonplace during the COVID-19 pandemic, but some in the Detroit-area produce industry say there could be a downside for the fresh fruit and vegetable categories.

Nothing catches a shopper’s eye like a large, attractive produce display, where consumers can see, feel and touch the product they’re about to buy, they say.

But that’s hard to do when you’re ordering via a smartphone.

“It does take away the impulse buying,” said Mike Bommarito, president of Detroit-based R.A.M. Produce Distributors LLC.

“Shoppers won’t be saying, ‘These cantaloupes look beautiful today,’ and take one home,” he said.

Although home delivery and curbside pickup are “a great option for people,” Dominic Russo, buying and selling director for Rocky Produce in Detroit, believes there’s something to be said for in-person shopping.

“Coming from a produce background, I still believe there are a lot of people who like to go into the stores and do their shopping and see with their eyes and pick up the fruit with their hands,” he said.  

“People want to be marketed to,” he added, and shown what’s in season.

Matt DeBlouw, president of Mike Pirrone Produce Inc., a grower-shipper based in Capac, Mich., sees both sides.

It’s important to have an exciting presentation in-store, he said.

“If you see beautiful green peppers, you’re more inclined (to make an impulse purchase).”

At the same time, he sees a positive in sitting at home, discussing upcoming meals and purchasing the ingredients, he said.

Consumers also can look up recipes, which they are not likely to do at the supermarket.

And ordering online can help ensure that people eat healthy by making it easy to buy fresh fruits and vegetables versus ordering prepared meals that may not include fresh produce, he said.

Bommarito said he does not believe consumers are ordering all of their groceries online.

“If you’re going to have a chain store home delivery, you’re going to buy potatoes, bananas or lettuce, but there are things that people still like to pick out,” he said.

“They’ll still end up going to the fruit market or the grocery store and picking up the (products) that they like to feel and touch and smell.” 


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