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t’s no surprise that grocery stores have done particularly well during the pandemic. Everyone needs to eat and stock up on dry goods. What is surprising is the way the pandemic is changing our buying habits.

People are spending less time in stores, but when they do go, they buy more. There is less human contact as people shop more online and have goods delivered. And supermarkets have become more transactional with less focus on merchandising as people want to get in and out quickly.

During a discussion about the new era of grocery retail sponsored by SAP as part of the The Retail Summit, experts from a home delivery food kit business and an unmanned grocery retailer shared insights and new developments.

Corona cohorts

Robert Grieg-Gran, Co-Founder of Mindful Chef, UK’s highest rated home-delivered recipe box, recounted how the team sat down to make some strategic decisions at the start of the pandemic. Before Covid-19, the company was delivering 12,000 fresh food boxes a week, each containing 5 or 6 meals. When the crisis hit, people stopped eating out, and cooking at home was the only option. Panic buying emptied supermarket shelves, supply chains were disrupted, and competitors were closing their doors. Suddenly, Mindful Chef was delivering 35,000 boxes per week. 

“We asked ourselves, what could we do differently, so people could access fresh food when they need it most,” Grieg-Gran explained. The team was determined to keep their doors open throughout. This meant dropping the menu, increasing the supply chain lead time, and making lots of last-minute substitutions.

“Was the service amazing? No. Was the supply chain perfect? No. But we thought it was important for our customers to get something, rather than us to just shut our doors,” says the chef from Devon. “We added new packing staff, expanded our relationships with our warehouse and delivery partners to scale the business, and maintained ownership of our end-to-end fulfillment process.”

The strategy paid off. People who signed up in March have become repeat customers. “We call them our Corona Cohorts,” says Grieg-Gran with a grin. “They come back because they know they’ll get what they want. After all, food is still a very intimate thing. You’re going to put it inside your body, so you need to trust the people you buy it from.”

Technology and data analytics play a key role in the business. Mindful Chef’s customers expect the team to curate options, so they don’t have to think about what to cook. Data science makes it possible to give each customer the best recommendation because they won’t see menu options they don’t like. The company uses machine learning models to figure out what customers like based on their purchasing histories.

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