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The Instacart Meals service marks Instacart's entry into the grocery store meals arena.

Instacart pilots online meal ordering/delivery with Publix

New Instacart Meals service makes supermarkets made-to-order food destinations

Instacart is testing a new service with Publix Super Markets called Instacart Meals, which provides grocery stores a turnkey solution for online ordering, delivery and pickup of made-to-order food.

Instacart said Thursday that Instacart Meals allows supermarket customers to order prepared food online from a retailer’s “digital deli counter” and then pick up their meal from the store or have it delivered to their home. Key features include “build your own” functionality so customers can order food the way they want it, and integration with a store’s order management system to coordinate timing of food preparation and pickup.

Plans call for Instacart and Publix to pilot Instacart Meals in Orlando, Fla., in the retailer’s deli department, focusing on its made-to-order sub sandwiches. The service then is slated to be rolled out to Publix stores across Florida in the following weeks and to all of the Southeastern chain’s stores in the coming months.

San Francisco-based Instacart noted that Instacart Meals can help supermarkets better compete with restaurants as purveyors of convenient — and less costly — meal solutions for today’s on-the-go, digitally savvy consumers.

“We’re excited to introduce Instacart Meals to customers nationwide. At less than half the price of an average fast-casual food order, made-to-order grocery meals offer busy people and families access to a fresh and more affordable option when life is hectic and dinner is now,” Instacart President Nilam Ganenthiran said in a statement.

“Made-to-order food counters are among the fastest-growing aisles in the grocery store. These items represent up to 15% of sales for our grocery partners and have among the highest margins of anything sold in-store,” he explained. “It’s critical that our grocery partners are able to capture these sales online with delivery and pickup. It’s a boost to their business and a key part of the shopping experience for customers.”

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Instacart Meals offers Publix customers ordering sub sandwiches "build your own" capability via a "digital deli counter."

Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix operates 1,239 stores in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. More than 800 locations are in Florida. Publix has partnered with Instacart for online grocery delivery since July 2016, with plans to bring the on-demand service to all stores by 2020. Publix also offers Instacart Pickup service.

This fall, Publix was named as the top Instacart grocer by Edison Trends. In September, Publix accounted for a 37% estimated market share of Instacart orders, the e-commerce intelligence firm said.

“At Publix, we’re always looking for ways to ensure our customers have the best experience possible, both in our stores and online. With Instacart, it’s easier than ever for our customers to get prepared subs fast — the way they want — delivered along with their grocery essentials,” stated Maria Brous, director of communications at Publix.

“Our expanded collaboration also means that our customers will not have to wait in-line for our popular Publix subs,” according to Brous. “From delivery and pickup in as fast as two hours, to alcohol delivery and now, the deli and subs, we’ve brought our store online with Instacart and made it even easier for our customers to enjoy the food they love with friends and family — just in time for the big game.”

In the Instacart Meals service, Instacart personal shoppers pick up prepared food orders as part of their trip in fulfilling online grocery orders. The digital deli counter is accessed within the online storefront, enabling customers to design a meal as they like it. In the Publix pilot, shoppers can build their own sub by choosing from a variety of breads, meats, cheeses, veggies and condiments using the streamlined user interface.

Instacart said Instacart Meals plugs directly into a retailer’s ordering system, so store staff can receive orders through an existing infrastructure and start preparing orders immediately. Instacart shoppers then simply swing by the counter and pick up any items. The company noted that Instacart Meals works with order management systems to generate precise preparation and counter pickup windows at the end of the personal shopper’s grocery fulfillment route — ensuring “store to the door” service.

In addition, Instacart Meals automatically offers all of a store’s applicable combo options and discounts. Through the pilot, Instacart said Publix’s signature sub combo is available online for the first .

“Instacart Meals wasn’t a simple technical feat. The team built an entirely new set of features right into our existing app and folded minute-to-minute counter collection windows into our already complex fulfillment chain,” commented Mark Schaaf, chief technology officer at Instacart. “All of these technologies work together, enabling customers to design their perfect made-to-order meal from millions of order combinations, all with the tap of a button.”

The test with Publix marks Instacart’s foray into supermarket meal delivery and builds on recent expansions of its service beyond grocery delivery.  

Last week, Instacart unveiled an upgraded Instacart Pickup product and plans for a nationwide rollout to retailers by the year’s end. To support the expanded grocery pickup business, company veteran Sarah Mastrorocco was appointed general manager of Instacart Pickup, a newly created position.

And last month, Instacart said it now offers alcohol delivery from almost 7,000 stores in more than 20 states and the District of Columbia, most recently launching the service with Costco Wholesale. With the expansion, Instacart alcohol delivery now reaches nearly 60 million households, up from 40 million in March. Instacart said the number of alcohol deliveries is up by triple digits year over year, and the average grocey basket size grows by nearly 15% with the addition of alcohol. Instacart also offers alcohol pickup in a number of states and aims to expand that service to retailers in the coming months.

In November, Instacart also announced a pilot of prescription drug delivery with Costco in California and Washington. Last year, too, saw Instacart venture into the home and office supplies category via a delivery partnership with Staples Canada.

Overall, Instacart partners with 350-plus national, regional and local retailers for delivery service from more than 25,000 stores in over 5,500 cities in the United States and Canada. Instacart delivery is currently available to more than 85% of U.S. households and over 70% of Canadian households. 

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