WALTHAM, Mass. — In recent years, choice and variety have become increasingly in-demand qualities for prepared food and dispensed beverage programs. This spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted radical shifts in both business operations and consumer behavior, Alltown Fresh extended those attributes beyond its menu to the purchase process itself.
The retailer in May simultaneously launched four different methods of contactless shopping:
Fresh Crates: Crates of fresh groceries and other necessities that can be ordered 24 hours before pickup. Featured items include locally sourced fruits and vegetables, meats from family farms, and organic pantry staples.
Meal Prep & Provisions: Preassembled meal kits to help families quickly prepare dinner. Customers can place an order before noon to have their meal prep kit ready for pickup by 5 p.m. Each prep kit serves a minimum of four people.
Curbside Pickup: Customers can call ahead to order menu items such as bean-to-cup organic coffee, fresh smoothies, artisan sandwiches and composed salads, along with traditional convenience items like household essentials. Employees bring the items directly to the customer’s car.
Delivery: Alltown Fresh is partnering with third-party service Grubhub to deliver its menu of fresh food and beverages directly to customers' homes.
The quick pivot to contactless had some basis in pre-pandemic plans, but was largely a new effort that required significant effort from the Waltham-based chain's team.
"Not all of the shopping methods were in the works prior to the pandemic, but they were certainly on our radar as our team is always thinking about ways to make our guests' lives easier," Melissa Mancini, social and digital marketing manager for Alltown Fresh, told Convenience Store News. "For example, we had been planning to launch delivery with Grubhub later on in 2020, but it was launched in under two weeks once COVID hit. For several weeks, it was all hands on deck to launch our contactless shopping methods.”
The retailer's multipronged contactless approach stands out for its leveraging of an existing strength — a focus on fresh, healthy items made using locally sourced ingredients.
With not one, but several different contactless options, Alltown Fresh gives customers the flexibility to decide what they feel is the safest and most convenient method of buying food in the midst of the pandemic.
The emphasis on freshness in all four contactless options is particularly significant in today's convenience market, as Mancini noted that fresh food is becoming more important than ever to customers who care more about what they put into their bodies.
"People are now willing to go the distance for fresh options, and we're hoping to serve folks in the communities in which we operate, in addition to those who will travel for fresh," she said.
Since launching in May, delivery has outperformed all the other contactless shopping methods, and the retailer expects it to continue playing a crucial role after the pandemic. "While delivery was certainly popular prior to the pandemic, it's become table stakes," Mancini said.
Curbside pickup is also anticipated to continue in importance post-COVID, as it offers a new level of convenience that c-store customers hadn't previously experienced.
While the development and rollout of Alltown Fresh's contactless options may have been rushed due to the pandemic, the process reflects the retailer's philosophy on innovation.
"As a customer-driven brand, consumer needs are behind every decision we make. Innovating is about developing products and services that meet those consumer needs in a way that the industry has not seen before," Mancini explained. "For example, while we do sell groceries, it wasn't a focus of ours prior to the COVID outbreak. Once we heard consumers were having a difficult time getting groceries at supermarkets (waiting in lines, empty shelves, etc.), we decided to fill that need with our Fresh Crates program, which offers guests a crate full of either produce, protein or pantry items available for curbside pickup to save them the trip to the grocery store."
Alltown Fresh plans to continue stepping up its innovation efforts. The company introduced an innovation email to field ideas from its employees around new ways of doing business, and it established an internal team to manage such ideas. The retailer is also looking to offer a fuller menu of products for delivery, including consumer packaged goods.
"We're always tweaking our offerings based on consumer feedback," Mancini said. "Whether it be changes to our menu, ingredients or technology, we're continuously making improvements."
Alltown Fresh is part of the Global Partners LP family of brands.