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Omnichannel Grocery Stores Create Need for Protective Food Packaging

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated stay-at-home orders resulted in an increase in consumers purchasing groceries online. As a result, grocery retailers are now challenged to find the right protective food packaging, ensuring purchases arrive fresh and intact no matter if they’re shipped, delivered, or prepared for curbside pickup.

As more people use technology to shop, grocery stores are following in the footsteps of fashion and electronics retailers by leveraging the omnichannel sales model.

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated stay-at-home orders resulted in an increase in consumers purchasing groceries online. As a result, grocery retailers are now challenged to find the right protective food packaging, ensuring purchases arrive fresh and intact no matter if they’re shipped, delivered, or prepared for curbside pickup.

This means brick-and-mortar grocery stores are charged with transforming into micro fulfillment centers. They now must take the same precautions consumers would to protect groceries in transit. Furthermore, employees must pick and pack items as if they were the customer themselves. And during transit, groceries need to be protected from extreme temperature fluctuations, crushing by other items, or accidental droppings.

Grocery stores, especially those that haven’t started the transition to an omnichannel strategy, face three major challenges: They must carve out a footprint inside their existing stores to efficiently fill orders, re-train staff to handle in-store and online orders, and ensure that products are shipped with appropriate packaging.

 

Putting Down a Foot(print)

Real estate costs and proximity to urban centers have shrunk the average grocery store size from 40,000 square feet to under 20,000 square feet. This size reduction is great for expanding into a new market or adding locations for quick shopping trips. However, smaller grocery stores are hardly conducive for employees who need to stock shelves and fulfill virtual orders in the same place. Then factor in customers attempting to navigate cluttered aisles and shelves, and the experience becomes almost impossible for everyone involved. Less square footage limits space for storing and staging online orders.

For curbside pickup, perishables and non-perishables need to be kept in a location that is easily accessible to facilitate rapid delivery to vehicles. On the other hand, orders that will be shipped or delivered require an area simply for packing. Ultimately, this may result in limiting the amount of space devoted to warehousing or product displays and reducing available products.

 

Educating and Training Staff

Staff needs to be reallocated to fulfill online orders and trained on picking and packing. Unlike in a warehouse full of dry goods, grocery orders deal with perishable items, which means judgement calls may need to be made. For example, employees must know not to put discolored meat or moldy produce into a customer’s order.

They also need to know the proper procedures for packaging orders that will be delivered or shipped. This will help avoid damage and spoilage as the orders make their way to their final destination, whether it’s around the corner or across town.

 

Protective Packaging Ensures Satisfaction

Improper food packaging can negate the effort spent preparing the store and employees for online order fulfillment. Most packaging for displaying products is to catch a consumer’s eye, not keep products safe. Just think about all of the colorful cartoon characters and close-ups of delectable treats plastered across boxes. They offer very little protection outside the store and cannot withstand temperature changes or constant movement.

Then there are the items that aren’t packaged at all, such as produce. Plastic bags work for in-person shopping or curbside pickup, but not for delivery or shipping. If apples are tossed haphazardly into a box with a jar of peanut butter, they’ll more often than not arrive bruised at their destination. Not investing in protective packaging will result in damaged food, and later, returns, re-shipping, and dissatisfied customers.

Insulated packaging is one way to help food arrive fresh at its destination. A solution like Penguin Pack uses metalized film laminate to keep out heat, while bubble cushioning protects items inside from shock and vibration. To cushion delicate items, such as easily bruised produce, grocery stores should use solutions like SleevIts. These mesh foam sleeves provide light cushioning and protect surfaces from scratching.

Orders may also contain fragile glass goods, such as bottles containing liquids like wine or olive oil. An inflatable pouch like AirSpeed® ChamberPak provides encapsulation and cushioning protection. The poly structure is also water- and moisture-resistant, in case a bottle leaks, preventing damage to other items in the order. 

When boxing up multiple items or heavy products such as detergent or cleaning supplies, on-demand air or paper systems can provide void fill to prevent goods from sliding around. These solutions will minimize movement to help keep products intact. The end goal is to deliver products with the consumer-friendly packaging just as you would see it in the store. 

 

Staying on Top of Omnichannel Grocery Fulfillment

As stay-at-home orders are lifted, consumers will likely use a hybrid method of in-store shopping and online grocery ordering. More than 50 percent of in-store shoppers have ordered groceries online within 30 days, according to a study by the Retail Feedback Group. That means retailers must provide a great shopping experience both in-person and virtually. That requires packaging items correctly to avoid damage and spoilage in transit.

Want to make sure groceries arrive fresh and intact? Contact Pregis to learn more about our protective food packaging solutions at www.pregis.com/contact-us.