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Distributed Grocery Turns Any Location into a Grocery Pickup Point

Susan Post Susan Post Distributed Grocery Turns Any Location into a Grocery Pickup PointPhotos by Susan Post
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There’s no industry that hasn’t been touched by the coronavirus pandemic, and grocery shopping and food distribution are no exception.

As shoppers change their habits and the popularity of curbside pickup and delivery options grows, a new partnership is rethinking how individuals access their groceries.

Distributed Grocery is turning any location – from churches and schools to movie theaters and restaurants – into a pickup point for fresh groceries.

A partnership between Columbus-based software company Azoti, who works with perishable product buyers, and Cleveland-based Sirna & Sons Produce and Blue Ridge Media Company, Distributed Grocery is offering fresh produce and other food items through a model that’s safer and more affordable than a traditional grocery store.

As a consumer, shoppers select a pickup location from the Distributed Grocery website. They’ll shop a selection of grocery items that not only include individual produce and bundled boxes of fruits and vegetables, but dairy products, meats, seafood and more. Orders are due 48 hours before pickup and paid online.

On pickup day, customers will pull into the pickup zone and show their ID and verify their order, which will then be placed directly in their trunk (by masked and gloved workers).

Workers load groceries into the trunk of a customer’s car for contactless pickup.

Getting produce directly from the distributor cuts down on the number of people that come into contact with the food, making it safer, says Azoti Founder & CEO Dave Ranallo. It also avoids costly grocery store markups, which can be between 30% – 60% Ranallo says.

Any markups on Distributed Grocery items go to a good cause. The model is designed so that any site can become a pickup point for free, however each hub can add a small markup to each box to compensate staff, generate a new revenue stream or donate to the charity of their choice. Locations are also required to donate a portion of their proceeds or product to local food banks.

Distributed Grocery can have new hubs up and running in around three days Ranallo says. For example, take a school that wants to become a pickup point to support the PTO.

“All the PTO parent has to decide is how much do they want to give to charity and how will we manage the pickups,” Ranallo says.

A site can manage the distribution themselves, or have Sirna & Sons handle it.

The pickup site will then promote the opportunity through their networks with some guidance from Distributed Grocery.

“There will be a pickup point package, which walks them through everything they need to do, [and will] have promotional materials, email templates, and if they have to manage [pickup] themselves, the customer lists of what people are going to get plus all the best practices,” Ranallo says.

Sirna & Sons selects the products to fulfill an order.

The model is seeing success at Sirna & Sons’ distribution centers in the Cleveland area. Running three times per week at two locations, each pickup day typically sees between 300 – 500 customers.

Currently there’s only one site in Columbus, a weekly Friday pickup at the Hyatt Downtown, 350 N. High St. They’re looking for more locations in Columbus while expanding their footprint in Cleveland, recently signing a deal with University Hospitals.

While the idea might have been borne out of response to the pandemic, Ranallo believes there’s a future in the Distributed Grocery system.

The pandemic has had a huge impact on distributors big and small that typically supply restaurants. Even when restaurants are legally allowed to re-open to dine-in patrons, things won’t immediately go back to “normal.”

“People are not going to restaurants, and if they are, those restaurants are going to be at 50% capacity,” Ranallo says.

With Azoti’s capabilities behind the scenes, Distributed Grocery is able to streamline supply channels, reducing food waste. What’s ordered is exactly what is needed.

The pandemic has also made apparent the importance of a more localized food chain – something Azoti has been focused on for years.

Ranallo uses Amazon as an example. The retail giant’s distribution centers can be upwards of 900,000 square feet and employ thousands of workers. While efforts are being made to track the health of employees, say there is a coronavirus outbreak at a facility and it has to shut down. Ranallo points out that in an overly centralized system, one major player shutting down means nobody gets anything.

In a more decentralized, localized system, where there are more growers and more options, there’s more adaptability.

“I really do see this as being a new normal,” Ranallo says.

For more information, visit distributedgrocery.com.

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