During the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing that has stayed constant is the need for groceries. As dine-in restaurants were temporarily closed and take-out struggled with new logistics, many people shifted their food sourcing. Grocery store workers have been absolutely essential, and so have grocery delivery services. Unlike many other businesses and retail stores that have seen large drops in revenue, food delivery services have been on the rise this spring and summer.

According to CPA Canada, online grocery shopping has been around since the 1990s. However, until now, it has been seen as a luxury. These days, there are several accessible food delivery services to choose from. Many locally sourced Canadian services are eagerly catering to customer needs. For example, The Organic Box in Alberta delivers fresh, local groceries and 2 Guys with Knives in B.C. delivers healthy meal kits to people in their region. All it takes is a quick call or a few clicks on a user-friendly website to receive weekly deliveries.

The Desire for Convenience
The Edmonton Journal points out that meal kits open up a lot of time for us. From time spent at the grocery store, to planning meals, to the prep work, food deliveries allow us to have more time for hobbies and for spending time with the people we love. Daily meal planning has become more stressful during COVID-19, as many families have been working and studying from home. Meal delivery kits offer a great variety for different diets, and customers can try foods that they might not have otherwise considered.

2 Guys with Knives, based in Vancouver, B.C., delivers meals that are fully cooked for athletes, families and others who want a convenient, healthy service. All you need to do is reheat and enjoy, without the hassle of prep, cooking and clean up. They also work with local suppliers as much as possible, including Sysco, Gordon Food Service, Centennial Canada, and Yen Brothers. To increase this already high level of convenience, customers can also customize their meals.

Patrick Carr of 2 Guys with Knives explains, “If you have a specific allergy or dietary preference, such as an allergy to nuts, if you don’t like bell peppers, or you’re following a paleo, keto, or vegan diet, you can customize all those issues to suit your specific dietary parameters on our website.”

A Shift in Business
Typically, these food delivery businesses go through a slow wave during the summer, as people are away on vacation or are enjoying patio season. They are usually busiest during fall and winter, when people are getting back into a routine or have resolution goals that they want to accomplish.

Compared to previous summers, this season has been busier and steadier than usual. More customers are staying home and trying out new ways of getting groceries that do not involve the inconvenience and potential health risk of visiting a grocery store. These services saw a spike at the beginning of the pandemic, as customers were panicking and ordering many meals to freeze, thinking their favourite food delivery businesses might close.

“We had some drop off because there are a lot of people who lost their jobs, so their financial security was a little bit different than their normal routine, but then we had a lot of new people come on,” shares Carr.

New Health and Safety Practices
These food delivery services must do as much as they can to be there for their customers. People without access to transportation or those who may be physically or otherwise unable to get to the grocery store on their own rely on such services. To stay open, food delivery services have many safety protocols in place, such as workers and drivers wearing masks and gloves, hand washing, social distancing, and frequently disinfecting. IT and administrative teams are working remotely.

Geoff Milsom of The Organic Box, an online direct-to-customer grocery store based in Edmonton, Alberta, says, “We have a COVID checklist that every employee has to fill out online before they come to work everyday asking the same sort of questions you’d see on the government website. Any kind of cough or tickle in your throat, you’d have to stay home.”

In the midst of the pandemic, contactless delivery is the new normal, so the level of customer service has changed slightly.

“We’re dropping off their order in a plastic bag on their doorstep, and we used to greet the customer and hand it to them. So not quite the same level of customer service that our customers have been used to, but unfortunately that’s just what we have to do at this time,” shares Milsom.

COVID-19 Has Increased Costs
Several factors are causing increases to costs as a result of COVID-19. Primarily, the labour for picking and gathering the crops has increased because farm work cannot be as efficient as usual. It is mostly migrant workers who pick crops seasonally, but many of them have not been able to enter the country.

“Some of our producers used to have teams of maybe 15 or 18 people working on machinery going through the field picking crops. Now, they have to go through the field twice with teams of seven or eight people because they’re all six feet apart instead of working shoulder to shoulder,” says Milsom.

Additionally, produce costs have increased because of supply chain shortages on certain ingredients. Carr says that protein like beef and salmon, a big staple of their business, has increased considerably. Milsom adds that the price of grapes and blueberries have increased 15 or 20 per cent. Luckily, in the case of meal kit services, menus change weekly depending on what is available.

Milsom states, “If you have stuff that needs to be picked today, you can’t put it off until next week; it will spoil. That’s a lot of product going to waste in the fields because there aren’t enough people to get it to market.”

New Normal, New Habits
The COVID-19 pandemic is undeniably changing the way Canadians think about their groceries and food deliveries. A recent Global News article shares interesting results from a McKinsey survey. The survey has shown that 10 per cent of Canadians have tried out grocery delivery for the first time. Grocery delivery is up 75 per cent, and 38 per cent of Canadians stated that they plan to keep having their groceries delivered.

Similar to ordering groceries and meal kits online, many Canadians are also frequently ordering delivery from their favourite restaurants through services like Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes. However, grocery and meal kit delivery services typically offer healthier options.

Milsom from The Organic Box says, “Hopefully we’ve shown a lot of people just how easy it is to buy your groceries online, save time and support local Albertan and Canadian suppliers.”