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Groceries Online: The Key to Smart, Healthy Shopping

Have a love-hate relationship with your local grocery store?
You’re not alone. Shopping is the ultimate onerous errand when it comes to time consumption, and it’s riddled with temptations that sabotage our diet and budget. It’s nothing for most of us to hop online (we’re probably there anyway) to buy, connect, work and be entertained – yet we’re still in an analog world when it comes to grocery shopping.

You may have found yourself with a scrap-paper list and a squeaky grocery cart wheel and thought, Why don’t I get my groceries online?  

Ditching the Cart

Some of us do. While online grocery stores such as the well-known home grocery shopping and delivery site Peapod took off in urban areas several years ago (and remains in business), the model proved impractical for less populated regions. But if you think online grocery shopping and delivery is so “year 2000”, consider this: according to MyWebGrocer, online grocery orders actually increased 24% during the week leading up to Thanksgiving this year. Convenience may be the draw, especially during the holidays, but some small studies even suggest shopping for groceries online can have health benefits.

Ami DeRienzo would agree. This past summer, she started MaineGroceryDelivery.com here in Maine in response to a need she identified in her delivery regions, which include Westbook, South Portland, Old Orchard Beach and surrounding areas. She views her business model as a natural outgrowth of a major trend toward online shopping – one not limited by age group or locale, and one that could help us all turn into smarter, healthier, more efficient shoppers.

“Oftentimes we eat unhealthily due to improper meal planning, or from grabbing that box of Twinkies on display at the grocery store because it catches our eye,” said DeRienzo. “With online shopping, customers take the time to think about what they will need and shop accordingly, allowing them to plan healthy meals for their week.” DeRienzo worked in management for a grocery store for approximately 18 years prior to opening her business, and she estimates that approximately 25% of the purchases made in a traditional grocery store are “impulse buys”. Eliminating these budget- and diet-devastating impulse buys – encouraged by stores stocking staples near the back and creating a maze of occasional racks – is one the biggest advantages of online grocery shopping and delivery.

But as MyWebGrocer points out, the grocer-consumer relationship is based on trust. Our retailer is a vital component in the quest for good health and nutrition. Can the consumer warm up to their online retailer the same way?

Just the Right Grapefruit

“Though one might think that ordering groceries online would be an impersonal experience, online shopping with MaineGroceryDelivery.com is actually a more personal experience than one would typically find in a grocery store,” said DeRienzo. As a small, independently owned company, her business is based exclusively upon developing relationships with customers.  She says she knows them all, and equates her deliveries with the role that used to be played by the milk man, who in decades past would value-add his dairy drop with a cheerful morning greeting. “We provide that same type of personal experience and service,” she said.

Even though shopping at MaineGroceryDelivery.com occurs online, owner Ami DeRienzo knows all of her customers personally. She equates the service her company provides to the role of the now obsolete milk man. 

Contrary to limiting product selection, often online grocery stores offer an enhanced selection, since they have access to products across different retailers and sources. These days, price shopping from store to store can be the best way to maximize a household food budget, but it’s simply unrealistic.

“The average consumer does not shop multiple locations on a weekly basis in order to capitalize on the best deals,” said DeRienzo, “but we do.” Her customers receive a regular weekly flyer that includes sale items from various stores in the area and additional sales available exclusively on the MaineGroceryDelivery.com site. By offering Maine products along with nationwide brands together, shoppers have a one-stop shopping experience that might not be possible from brick and mortar stores.

DeRienzo also said the majority of her customers seek local and organic foods in addition to standard household items, and she offers products from local food producers, including lobster from Cozy Harbor Seafood, meats from nearby Wolfe’s Neck Farm, and a section devoted specifically to organic products.

In fact, online shopping might have the advantage when it comes to opportunities to have fresh and local food. For MaineGroceryDelivery.com, delivering orders to customers in the summer months typically includes shopping for fresh produce at local farms. If eyeing the best veggie and feeling the fruit first hand is a must for you, DeRienzo capitulates. She said she’ll go the extra mile to provide quality just as a shopper might do in person. Shopping daily for fresh products that meet their standards of quality for her customers means scouring multiple locations, if that’s what it takes. “At times this has led to a two hour quest to find the right grapefruit,” she said.

Daily Servings – At Your Door

In some ways a conduit to a healthy bounty of fresh food, online grocery shopping and delivery can be a digital extension of the co-op model, depending on your location. When fruits and veggies are delivered directly to your door, you’ve seriously upped the ante on healthy eating. Spud,  for instance, delivers organic food to the door to its clients in Canada. Door to Door Organics delivers fresh organic produce and groceries throughout Colorado, Kansas City, Michigan, and the Chicago area, changing selection weekly, based on the farms. Digitally merging the healthy eating movement with family grocery staples could prove invaluable in breathing needed new life into meal plans for American consumers, and saving the time it takes to do it.

The bottom line is we can trace our sustenance, our holiday cheer, our nutrition, and our disease prevention back to our grocery store. So any shopping experience that meets our needs is the best shopping experience. Every consumer’s goal is to be a smarter, more efficient shopper, and here, online grocery shopping shines.

10 Reasons to Shop for Groceries Online 

1. It’s a personalized experience.
Online shoppers can revisit recurring orders, create multiple lists, and easily access deals and promotions that fit personal buying habits. You might even get the best grapefruit in the area, just as if you shopped for it yourself. 

2. It can help you save.
While there are shipping charges or delivery charges to consider (MaineGroceryDelivery.com charges $10), in some cases, savings can cover convenience costs. Online grocery sites incentivize shoppers with site sales and “deals of the day” in addition to local store promotions. Weekly sales from MaineGroceryDelivery.com combine the best of what the two major local grocery chains offer individually. And, no impulse buys mean you can stick to your budget and your meal planning. 

3. Selection, selection, selection. 
Because online shopping sites offer brands across stores and producers, it means one-stop shopping but with the variety of multiple stores. For the best variety and options, find retail sites that offer local producers and organics are available side-by-side with popular brands. (You’ll be supporting local businesses.) 

4. It’s healthy.
Eliminating impulse buying may be online grocery shopping’s biggest advantages. It can also help eliminate the desire to buy fattening foods because it means less browsing, and it can give you regular access to fresh produce.   

5. You can shop when you want.
You can buy anytime online—day or night. And, logging on at holiday crunch time means no leaving work early to beat the rush. Sites like NetGrocer.com, for instance, an online grocery site that delivers via FedEx, is integrated with today’s social marketing – if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, shopping is just a click away.  

6. You’ll beat the crowds.
At holiday time, it can be a challenge just to get from one end of the aisle to the other. Ordering online means no scuffles over the last pound of unsalted butter. It eliminates travel time and winter weather woes, and bulk buying doesn’t mean dragging large packages of toilet paper all around the store. 

7. It’s great for vacationers.
The first day of vacation is always spent at the store. Having groceries arrive ahead means more time to enjoy the trip. That’s particularly desirable in Maine, when summer vacationers flock to rental homes with empty refrigerators.  

8. It provides help for the housebound.
Says DeRienzo:  “I have a customer who lives in Massachusetts who shops for groceries online for her mom in Biddeford.” For those experiencing illness, or for the elderly who find it hard to get out of the house, the service can be a lifeline – especially in the winter.

9. You’ll conquer the “list”.
Forget the scraps of paper – your list is now online. If you think of something during the day, add it, and create access for all family members. 

10. It means relief for Mom.
DeRienzo says her customers with children have told her they enjoy some residual benefits from her service.  “In order to occupy the kids while shopping they easily spend an extra $10 -$20 on ‘stuff’ to keep the kids entertained,” she says.

More on Online Grocery Shopping

Read about the Top Websites for Online Grocery Shopping at Suite101.

Consumer Reports offers tips for the most productive online grocery shopping for the holiday season.

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