If you’d told me five years ago that I’d be able to order eggs, yogurt, and raw meat online and then feel comfortable about those temperature-sensitive foods sitting on my doorstep until I got home, I would have laughed and said “No thanks.”
But with customer comfort comes complexities for the supply chain and distribution network that are being called upon to deliver the goods (literally and metaphorically). E-food purveyors have been tackling specific concerns for years related to how the last mile impacts the shelf life of fresh food:
How far can fresh goods travel in a day?
What happens if there are weather delays?
How long can gel packs keep food at the correct temperature on a sunbaked stoop?
What are the most successful methods for separating dry goods from wet goods?
How best to keep frozen foods frozen?
The recent move by Amazon to acquire Whole Foods and the fact that the company is now offering meal kits in select markets, following on the heels of Walmart/Jet.com’s success in the online grocery segment, make it clear that ordering online and awaiting an at-home food delivery isn’t just for urban early adopters. According to Time magazine, the number of American homes that have tried meal kits is now 5%, up from 3% in 2016.
Today, the masses can place online orders for cake and eat it, too.
E-grocery and meal-kit deliveries are relatively new categories of revenue for Amazon and Walmart, and also new categories of risk. Getting into the e-grocery business means operating in a world of razor-thin margins and big expectations.
If those ingredients you ordered are meant to be prepared and put on the table for your family the same day, you won’t be very forgiving if a box arrives with damaged or spoiled ingredients. Free returns might make mistakes simple to fix in most e-commerce misses, but if your dinner arrives damaged, game over. Everything in the box becomes waste, and an entirely new order will have to be sent on another day. Getting the order there on time and in proper condition on the first try is paramount. That’s where the right packaging comes into play.
The sweet spot for fresh food delivery packaging is difficult to hit. How much packaging does it take to maintain proper temperatures, and how much wiggle room (i.e. hours spent in the back of a delivery truck or unprotected from the elements at a front door) can any one box, bag, or cooler handle? How can retailers keep material and shipping cost low without letting temperatures rise?
Sealed Air’s R&D teams are designing and testing packaging solutions that meet the most stringent requirements for regulatory safety and compliance, as well as taste, shelf life, and freshness.
As brick-and-mortar retail grocers contemplate turning into miniature distribution centers to fill online orders for groceries and meal kits, the challenges associated with achieving a safe, sustainable, profitable, at-home delivery experience will become very real, very fast.