We cannot predict the future of food

It is widely believed that the pandemic will cause a widespread and permanent change in American habits from analog to digital. But what about this most basic habit – grocery shopping?

Americans spend more on groceries than anything else, and the way we buy food is considered a waste of time to assess the future of our shopping habits. At the moment, the direction is … unclear.

I am looking for data on online grocery shopping in the United States and I will be humble and say that I do not have a clear picture.

Americans are definitely buying a lot more food online than we were in 2019, but in some notable categories, such as fresh and frozen foods, online sales growth is much lower than it was before the virus began to spread widely in USA In recent months, online grocery sales have fallen or remained almost unchanged from the previous year.

Inevitably, digital sales continue to increase as a share of spending in the United States, including on groceries. But the digital transformation is often not a straight march up the mountain, but rather an uneven ascent up, down and sideways. And buying groceries is a particularly jagged trajectory.

My grim analysis is that Americans have not fallen for buying bananas online, but we do not rule it out.

Along with figures showing that e-commerce lost ground last year in front of personal shopping, the muddy picture of online groceries shows that human behavior can be too complicated to explain.

Here’s where things seem: Before 2020, Americans weren’t so shocked that food was being delivered to our doors. Optionally or by necessity, almost all grocery purchases in the United States take place in stores.

The amount of grocery purchases made online has risen to somewhere around 7 to 15 percent from perhaps 3 or 4 percent of total sales in 2019. (Analysts told me that data on approximately $ 1 trillion in annual food sales goods in the United States should be taken with salt cereals.)

Delivering groceries to our door is still relatively difficult, but ordering groceries online to pick up at the store has intensified during the pandemic and has been delayed. Perhaps.

However, there is some setback in online ordering, and most Americans still shop for groceries the old-fashioned way. It is difficult to assess whether and to what extent the habit of online groceries may remain.

A report by Forrester and IRI found that in many categories of products purchased in supermarkets, online growth was lower than in January 2020. In closely monitored consumer surveys by research firm Bricks Meets Clicks, online food sales are growing unevenly lately.

Not surprisingly, online grocery sales could not continue to grow as fast as when we panicked online in 2020. But since sales are still relatively small, this is not a sign of passionate digital love. that the numbers have not increased is growing rapidly or steadily. (Rising costs for everything also make it difficult to compare shopping in 2022 with that in 2019)

Even experts can’t say for sure how quickly Americans will adopt the habit of online shopping or how much of our shopping can be virtual. “The numbers are too small to draw consistent conclusions,” said Jason Goldberg, chief marketing officer at advertising giant Publicis.

He told me that in conversations with industry leaders, large supermarket chains are betting that shopping for groceries online will become a big part of our lives, but that everyone is also constantly guessing their beliefs.

At least for now, supermarkets, including Walmart, Target and Kroger, are investing in expanding opportunities for people to pick up groceries they buy online. This is the American method of digital grocery shopping.

Large supermarkets are also redesigning stores to make it easier for staff to collect online orders, and some have invested in more automated mini-warehouses like Amazon.

Goldberg said grocery sellers do not want to be abandoned if and when more of our shopping happens online. But they are also worried, in part because selling online increases costs in a sector that is already driven by profit.

Even the relatively small amount of online grocery shopping has profoundly changed the experiences of many shoppers, some of the millions of Americans who work in grocery stores, and these anxious sellers.

However, the difficulty of analyzing the present and future of our online food requires humility about the sustainability of our adaptations to the coronavirus. When people make bold statements about what will happen in shopping, work or the economy, try to remember that no one knows for sure.

Maybe in your own life you are not sure how you want to shop for food. I look forward to hearing about your experience at ontech@nytimes.com. Please put “Groceries” in the topic.


ADo you have food or groceries delivered from the restaurant? Brian X. Chenthe consumer technology colonist for The New York Times, offers ways to estimate the true cost of your order, including fees that are sometimes not clearly disclosed.

(Please note that delivery app bills may vary depending on where you live. Some US cities require delivery apps to indicate their fees.)

Ever wondered why shipping pepperoni pizza through DoorDash costs $ 50 or why this Instacart bill seemed astronomically high? It’s not just because inflation has raised food prices. Online delivery apps and restaurants that rely on them also find ways to add fees to your order, which aren’t always transparent.

Consider an order I made for the delivery of two Subway sandwiches. In a survey I conducted for a previous column, Uber Eats charged me $ 25.25, including the cost of food, the service fee, the delivery fee and the additional small order fee – a surcharge of 91 percent compared to buying these sandwiches. personal.

In a separate experiment, I found that some restaurants charge more for certain menu items when you order through delivery apps. The Panda Express Family Feast dish costs $ 39 at the restaurant, but the same item costs $ 47.10 if you ordered it through DoorDash, Grubhub or Uber Eats. This was before the payment of additional service fees. Restaurants sometimes inflate menu prices to cover the commissions they pay on delivery apps.

The next time you decide to order a delivery, keep in mind how much it may cost you. Take a closer look at the bill and compare the price of the items in the app with the price of these items from the menu on the website of the restaurant or grocery store.

The real cost of using a delivery app can make you use the phone to order food to take home and have dinner by yourself, or you may decide that the delivery is worth it. You will be better informed anyway.

  • The war is a testing ground for face scanning technology: My colleague Kashmir Hill reports that Clearview AI software, which promises to identify people from images of their faces, has been used to identify soldiers killed in the war in Ukraine to inform their families. But she also notes that face recognition companies can take advantage of the crisis as a sales opportunity, and that mistakes in identifying people can be deadly in a war zone.

  • Problems for this, uh, eyeball scanning company. It sounds strange, but a startup called Worldcoin has promised to give people in low-income countries a cryptocurrency and scan their eyes to make sure no one gets paid more than once. BuzzFeed News found that some people are furious that they have vouchers for a currency that does not yet exist.

  • How does e-commerce work on remote islands in the Pacific? In French Polynesia, locals have set up their own online shopping service that relies on airplanes, cargo ships, scooters and the Facebook Messenger app, Rest of World reports.

Please meet the squirrel who loves a bagel of everything.


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