When I was a kid growing up in New York City, my mother often took me along when she shopped at the supermarket. During those little excursions, she taught me that you had to touch the produce to make sure you were getting the freshest and tastiest pieces. Green grapes were a family favorite, but I always thought it was a little strange when I saw her pop a grape in her mouth in the middle of the fruit aisle to make sure the bunch was sweet. But then I saw other ‘experienced’ shoppers doing the same, and I quickly learned that stealing one grape was okay (but not two).
This very hands-on grape-selection process clearly requires an in-person presence, one that online grocery shopping simply can’t provide. This early lesson set my perspective on how to shop for my groceries for decades.
When services like Peapod cropped up, I wasn’t interested. I figured it would be unlikely that a stranger would gather up the best-quality produce for me.
And I also couldn’t integrate the hit of the delivery cost with the benefit of time saved not shopping and not waiting on the check-out line. It just didn’t align with the value system that I had learned growing up.
But like so many things, the pandemic changed all of that.
I Became an Online Grocery Shopper
Last year, in my total focus to practice social distancing, I tore up my shopping rule book and turned to the web to source my family’s groceries and supplies. I shopped online at FreshDirect, Whole Foods Market and Stop & Shop. Of course, because so many others were practicing the same strategy, it was especially difficult to find open delivery slots.
Eventually, even though the pandemic continued on, grocery shopping websites seemingly became more adept at handling the demand. And I eventually found it much easier to schedule deliveries whenever I needed them.
Recently, I visited Whole Foods online at 6:30am, because I realized that we were low on eggs. On the check-out page, I spotted an open 12-2pm delivery slot. By 1pm, the neatly packed bags of groceries were on our doorstep. And by 1:10pm, the eggs were safely in my refrigerator.
The cost for this emergency egg delivery?
That’s because I’m an Amazon Prime member. I only added in a tip.
And no eggs were cracked! While that may not seem like much of an accomplishment, it does support my general finding that online items actually show up in really good shape.
We typically shop weekly at FreshDirect, and the apples, pears and bananas have been top quality.
That said, some of the red grape orders have been disappointing. When grapes start to go out of season, you can taste it immediately. Unfortunately, there’s no ‘pop-a-grape’ button to press on the website. You’ve just got to go for it.
Yes, you may not get exactly what you want when you shop for your food online, but grapes notwithstanding, I’ve found that it’s been pretty darn close over the past year.
I certainly understand that many people continue to shop safely at the market by wearing their masks and practicing social distancing. I’ve simply chosen a different practice, which was first (admittedly) prompted by fear. And now, I’ve become accustomed to this new shopping mindset, which works really well for my family. And I figure since I’ve come this far, why take the risk?
But one day (hopefully soon), herd immunity will take that concern off the table. And this leads to the obvious question. Will I eventually go back to the market after the pandemic is over?
Predicting future behavior is always tricky. But I’m going to say… no. Certainly not as a regular practice.
I think the pandemic has permanently changed my grocery shopping from the physical to the virtual.
Sure, I might need to run in to the market for something I can’t wait a few hours to have delivered. (Writing that sentence would feel entirely absurd to me a year ago.)
But when it comes to my weekly patterns, I don’t believe visiting the supermarket will return to my schedule.
Yes, there’s the loss of the social factor. Sometimes it’s nice just to get out and see a few people. Maybe run into someone you know at the market.
But aren’t we already on Zoom, 24/7, being exposed to a seemingly limitless supply of human faces? Why would anyone feel the need to go out into the physical world? (cough)
Sometimes, tasting a few sour grapes reflects the pleasures of the larger journey. And those moments don’t need to be confined to the produce aisle.
There’s a whole world out there that hopefully we can return to soon… and be free to source our next sour grape. It’s the journey that matters.