Fresh produce, some of it from farmers’ markets, could be one of the few types of groceries that largely avoid automation. So says Phil Lempert, the founder of SupermarketGuru.com and food trends editor for NBC’s “Today.”
“The center of the supermarket has been declining anyway,” Lempert said. “So the supermarket becomes 20,000 to 30,000 square feet of produce. And the produce people are going to talk to (customers), and the fishmonger is going to be talking to (customers) … and there’s a registered dietitian (customers) can ask about healthy foods or reading labels.”
The industry is already heading toward auto-ordering. Samsung introduced its Family Hub line of smart refrigerators last year. In June, Amazon came out with its $20 Dash Wand, a tiny remote that doubles as a fridge magnet and bar-code scanner. Users can have the Dash Wand add to their grocery list by using Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa, or by scanning the bar code of an item they wish to restock. And grocers already are bringing nutritionists into stores to talk with shoppers, according to California Grocers Association spokesperson Dave Heylen.
With Amazon’s pending acquisition of Whole Foods Market, there may soon be brick-and-mortar locations for the Seattle company to experiment with new shopping and pick-up experiences. Amazon already offers AmazonFresh Pickup in two Seattle locations, where users order groceries online and drive to a station where workers load grocery bags into their car.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment, and Whole Foods declined to comment because its deal with Amazon has not yet closed.
Most analysts agree that grocery stores are not going away. Just 7 percent of consumers in the United States bought groceries online in May, according to a report by the NPD Group. “Even among those people who shop online, three-fourths of their grocery dollars still go to brick and mortar,” said NPD analyst Darren Seifer.
And online retailer Amazon’s experiments with physical stores suggest it sees value in the venture, despite widespread concern about the “end of retail.” However, as online ordering continues to grow, stores could one day bid the air-conditioned maze of cereal, canned food and ice cream goodbye. Traditional grocery chains face substantial competitive pressure — mostly because…