Everything else is available via the online shopping channel. So why not fruits and vegetables? The good news is that it is indeed very possible to buy fruits and vegetables via the Internet and if the truth be known, fresh produce has been available more or less right from the beginning of the electronic shopping revolution.
The possibility of procuring produce by way of keyboard and broadband connection therefore warrants no debate in principle. What is up for discussion though, is the consistency of the offer, seasonality related issues and future trends.
Fruits and vegetables are not manufactured but grown. The consistency of the product therefore varies from year to year, from month to month, from week to week and often from day to day. Consumers typically compensate for that phenomenon by selecting the produce they buy with care. Grabbing a can of baked beans or a packet of sugar from the grocery shelf is ultimately an auto-pilot driven event and requires little foresight. On the other hand, consumers typically select fruits and vegetables with considerable care, which is their way of aiming to achieve a degree of quality continuity that suits their particular purpose. The change from selecting your bananas, oranges and tomatoes yourself to having them selected by someone else and delivered to your door requires a leap of faith an increasing number of people are making.
The title of this section could also be;'what do I get?' The answer is; that varies depending upon time of year, where you shop and where you live. These answers are on the surface no different to those one would get when analysing which 'brick and mortar' store one might wish to frequent. The online nature of the shopping trip just adds a couple of twists though.
Supermarkets with online shopping capability treat produce shopping as an extension of their online grocery offer. The only difference in terms of fulfillment might be the way the produce is packed to compensate for the perishable nature of the product. The traditional green grocers tend to be 'missing in action', i.e; the development of an online offer to complement their shop based business goes beyond their level of competence, ability to invest or capacity and willingness to cope with the blended model.
Instead, a more 'condensed' offer and a new type of online shopping merchant has emerged - the box vendor. These businesses are typically entrepreneur driven and offer the online consumer the 'produce box' option. The emphasis is based on delivering selection of produce based on what is in season that represents value for money, has an underlying core quality and shifts the selection lever from the consumer to the merchant. Surprisingly many consumers are prepared to engage on that basis, leaving the choice of what ends up in their fruit bowl or veggie crisper to someone they have never met in their life. This suggests that despite the best efforts of the fresh produce trade to introduce a brand culture, consumers consider fruits and vegetables to be commodities following seasonal patterns and are prepared to be guided.
And then there is the direct grower to consumer channel to consider. Online shopping has essentially opened that channel for high value seasonal products in a way unseen a generation ago. Growers looking for channel diversification to spread business risk, access to modern communication technology and the right mindset, market their seasonal niche product with the help of websites and social media directly to consumers - with remarkable success.
We are only scratching the surface on online perishable food shopping at present. And we cannot look at this concept in a linear sense, as if it were just a logical evolution of shopping behaviour from the past. Food shopping is not a process that exists in isolation, it is an integral part and consequence of life style choices, time availability, attitude towards health, diet and meal preparation.
If we understand the drivers in these areas, we can attempt to forecast future online purchase trends - and the operative word is 'attempt'.