Soren Bjorn says online grocery shopping is here to stay

It took a global pandemic and stay-at-home orders for 1.5 billion people worldwide, but something is finally occurring to us: The future we thought we expected may not be the one we get.

We know that things will change; how they’ll change is a mystery. To envision a future altered by coronavirus, Quartz asked dozens of experts for their best predictions on how the world will be different in five years.

Below is an answer from Soren Bjorn, the president of Driscoll’s. Before coming to Driscoll’s in 2006, Bjorn worked as a vice president at Del Monte Foods.

Sorting through all the stuff that has changed in the short term, and figuring out what is more permanent, is the million-dollar question. One of the things that we very clearly believe has changed once and for all is online grocery shopping. If you think about online shopping when it comes to groceries, particularly produce, the penetration of that pre-Covid was low. We had been talking about this forever—Amazon Fresh, how it’s going to change our world. But it hadn’t changed our world. Consumers just did not have the confidence. When you think about the way you buy produce, you pick up the clam shell, and you look through to make sure you didn’t get the one with the bad berry. Even I do that. But because of Covid, now you had no choice but to go online and get your fresh produce that way. And people generally have had a good experience. Now they say, ‘Going to the grocery store actually takes a lot of time, why am I doing this when shopping online is more convenient?’

These penetration numbers of online shopping for produce are now up at a level where it’s really meaningful. And all of us who are suppliers to that industry have to figure out how to best optimize that. To build on the example I just gave you, one of the reasons we are in plastic is so that consumers can see the berries. That’s why it’s difficult for us to get rid of plastic, though we desperately want to. It’s difficult to do—we have to come up with a solution so consumers can still see berries. But if you buy groceries online, you don’t get to see the berries until they arrive, and by then it’s in some ways too late. The ramifications for us are actually quite significant. In our business it’s a really big change that is fundamentally permanent. Maybe that’s not a big surprise, but most people don’t realize how low the penetration of produce and groceries are online. It’s way lower than electronics and clothing, I think before Covid it was only 3% for all of grocery—that’s a low number.

For all produce companies that supply retailers, this has big ramifications. One of the benefits to us is our brand. If you think about it, there aren’t that many brands in produce that are recognized by consumers, and ours is one. We’re generally recognized for quality. In Instacart, you may not have every produce brand out there, but consumers may notice if they have Driscoll’s strawberries or not. The really premiere brands may actually do even better online. What we’re seeing now with some of our online customers is that consumers get a choice, Driscoll’s strawberries at a higher price, or other strawberries at a lower price. I think that’s good for the brands. I think branding becomes more important. Brands that consumers don’t really know, they become like private label.

The longer this goes on, other things will be more permanent. Lots of people talk about offices and remote working. It’s astonishing how much less money we spend every month on meetings and travel. And surely that makes us all question whether that was all necessary in the first place.

 

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