Freshness & Quality

Fresh fruit and vegetables are not easy to ship, and that poses unique last-mile challenges that can be pricey to address. According to a new study, however, e-commerce customers are ordering fresh produce nonetheless.

Forty-one percent of online grocery shoppers say that they include fresh produce in their orders, according to the U.S. Online Grocery Shopper Study conducted by Retail Feedback Group. Quality and freshness, however, remain issues. Produce was cited by online shoppers as the one department where products most frequently had problems. 

Fresh produce logistics are particularly complicated because of unique issues like short shelf life and seasonality, which impact shipping not just at the last mile but from the outset, as described by an article on Freight Waves. If vendors source the kind of locally grown produce from small farms that today’s customers are looking for, they face yet another set of challenges as small shipment sizes make profitability a more complex task.

The need for temperature control to maintain freshness and the ease with which product can be damaged adds more complication to the last mile of delivery. This is especially true in situations in which third parties are used to deliver — and even to pick and pack — fresh produce.

Not only is it difficult for individual retailers that leverage third party delivery services to enforce quality control on delicate perishables, contract worker satisfaction at services like Instacart is diminishing, which could impact the employees’ willingness to take care with the merchandise.

Some major initiatives in fresh food e-commerce have proven less successful than hoped. Walmart-owned’s pilot of a fresh food delivery service inside New York City was shuttered after only a year. And even with Whole Foods behind it as a possible point from which to fulfill fresh food orders, Amazon Fresh has had to scale back services.

Dec 19, 2019
by Matthew Stern