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Viewpoint: Don’t overlook these 4 risks when getting into the grocery delivery game

Grocery-delivery services are booming, and for good reason: it’s lucrative. Just five years ago, the grocery delivery market was a fledgling industry, and today, nearly one-quarter of American households rely on some form of grocery delivery.

Delivery brings significant revenue opportunity – but it comes with risk and details must be considered that impact consumer safety and brand perception. These inherent risks should be considered part of the process, not a deterrent to entering this revenue-generating niche. By conducting a thorough evaluation of your brand’s and potential delivery partner’s processes, you can identify gaps and what solutions can be put into place to mitigate risk. Potential risks include:

1. Food safety: Are you considering food safety when packing groceries? It may seem like a “small” detail, but proper packing becomes critical in ensuring safety. In a traditional grocery model, the consumer takes their groceries home, and what happens after is in their hands. But in the new model, there’s risk to both the customer and your brand when groceries leave your store. For example, time in transit impacts food safety for hot and cold items. Although most delivery models offer one- to two-hour delivery windows, your store has no control over delivery time, so packing items to maintain temperature quality is essential. Additionally, correct packing can prevent cross-contamination, whether between non-food and food items or ready-to-eat foods and high-risk foods. What happens if the laundry detergent in the same bag with produce and the detergent leaks?

2. Food and product quality: Are you thinking about how the delivery process can impact food and product quality? If your employees are choosing items for shoppers, training on identifying quality concerns should be part of your plan. If a third-party shopper is involved, you may need to increase your store-level quality checks to ensure that the best items are always available. In addition, packing can become a factor in food and product quality. Do you have a process in place to ensure that items are packed and handled to protect quality - i.e., bread isn’t crushed by heavier items?

3. Food security: Although no one wants to think about it, food security is a reality. Once groceries leave your store, they are out of your control. Could malicious product tampering happen en route to the customer? How do you protect against it and ensure that customers know the signs of tampering without causing fear about delivery service? Another aspect of food security to consider is your pickup area process. A protocolled pickup process protects the safety of products and could also prevent product loss or theft. Who has access to the area where groceries are held for pickup? Is there an identification process in place for delivery drivers?

4. Uncontracted partners: There is also potential for uncontracted partners to represent your store. Not only does this present a risk for quality and safety, but it can also mean that another business is profiting off your name. In the restaurant industry, there have been identified instances of delivery services advertising delivery from certain restaurants while the restaurants have been completely unaware. If you’re unaware, then the consumer is also unaware that the brand they are buying from is not part of the delivery process. If there’s a problem, then reflection is often on your brand, not the service. How are you making your customers aware of which delivery services are your approved partners? Do you have the legal resources in place to pursue uncontracted partners?

Once gaps have been identified, there are four steps you should consider as you work toward the appropriate solutions:

1. Create and institute procedures to address concerns identified during your risk analysis;
2. Develop robust training programs for your staff and any partners to learn and adopt safety and quality standards;
Implement detailed supplier agreements that establish rules of engagement and responsibility; and
3. Consider performing quality checks to ensure that service level agreements are being upheld. These might include announced or unannounced food safety or operational assessments, or mystery shop programs to evaluate the standards that are important to your brand.
4. Grocery delivery is here to stay. For most brands, it’s not a question of if they’ll get into the grocery delivery, but rather, how. The best delivery programs will benefit everyone involved: the customer, delivery partner and your brand. While there is work to be done, the revenue gains from grocery delivery certainly make the effort you’ll put into defining a program well worth the time.

Doug Sutton is the president of Steritech, leader in food safety and service excellence assessments across a variety of industries, including grocery, quick service restaurants, foodservice, retail, convenience stores, etc. Doug is responsible for leveraging industry-leading data to benchmark a client's performance against peers, correlate assessment scores to voice-of-customer feedback and same store sales and provide insights that help clients focus on what matters most to their customers.

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