Capital Region

Down to Business: Instacart’s Ready Meals could shake up online food delivery

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Instacart took a swipe at competitors last week, partnering with regional and national supermarket chains to offer an alternative to restaurant takeout by delivering sandwiches, soups, salads, entrees and sides for consumption at home or office.

Dubbed Ready Meals, the promise is “fresh, ready-made meals” ferried from the supermarket via online ordering in as fast as 30 minutes.

One news site called it a shot across the bow of restaurant aggregators DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub, which feature delivery of online orders from chain and local restaurants but also have been pushing into Instacart’s grocery-delivery business.

Participating in Ready Meals are Kroger, the country’s top traditional supermarket chain (only Walmart sells more groceries), and Publix, a powerhouse in the Southeast. Also taking part are the regional supermarkets operated by Ahold Delhaize USA, including Hannaford, which has dozens of Capital Region stores. Another grocer with local stores, ShopRite, is expected to join soon.

David Bishop, a partner at Brick Meets Click, a suburban Chicago adviser to food retailers, said the service’s appeal to grocers is in helping them “compete for and capture a larger share of the food-away-from-home spending” that occurs at restaurants.

While individual Ready Meals items could just as easily come via a weekly grocery order delivered by Instacart, “this offering focuses mainly on a curated assortment that aligns with immediate consumption,” Bishop said.

That means that although my choices might be limited, I still could put together a serviceable dinner via Ready Meals with, for instance, Hannaford hot rotisserie seasoned chicken, Bob Evans Farms mashed potatoes and Panera Bread broccoli cheddar soup.

I noticed over the course of several days this week that some of Hannaford’s Ready Meals offerings seemed to sell out, carrying an “out of stock” notation online.

Bishop said that could limit the service’s appeal since customers “are far less likely to experience this type of issue when ordering takeout via a DoorDash or Uber Eats” from a fast-casual restaurant.

A Hannaford spokeswoman indicated she was unable to meet my deadline for emailed questions about the company’s participation in Ready Meals, including one about out-of-stocks.

Bishop said the service also could pose some “near-term” labor issues, since grocers, like many employers, are reeling from the current worker shortage.

Mona Golub, spokeswoman for the Schenectady-based Price Chopper/Market 32 supermarket chain, which is not listed as a Ready Meals participant, noted that offering hot food for delivery “adds a considerable challenge to our store teams that are already stressed in taking care of daily business amidst the COVID environment.”

She said the chain offers salads, sandwiches and ready-to-heat meals through regular Instacart deliveries, and uses DoorDash to deliver the extensive food court fare sold at the Market Bistro store in Latham.

Golub said the company is reviewing the DoorDash service “for potential expansion” to other stores.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

Categories: Business, Opinion

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