Online food orders may be not as close to happening as an end to writing checks at the grocery store.
Bryan Jelinski, store manager at Cub Foods in Baxter, said while e-commerce may be the buzz word of the day many are waiting to see if there is a return out there for online investment. Before that expands, it is likely that plastic check cards will replace the traditional paper checkbook as payment options.
Online giant Amazon.com's financial bleeding has been well documented even after a robust holiday shopping season. But the move toward e-commerce and online shopping shows a rising consumer tide in many national studies.
"So much of that is beyond us at this stage," Jelinski said.
What is not beyond grocery stores is an expanded sense of what those shelves can carry. Customers may now apply for car loans on Saturdays before they look for a few items for dinner. Offering more is part of a move to expand that oft-used phrase of the "one-stop shop."
"It's about cutting down on stops you make," Jelinski said. "Anything to cut down on the time away from their busy schedule."
Consumers feel the need for speed. It is visible in nearly all areas from the rush-hour traffic patterns to fast-food choices and to the types of food purchased in area grocery stores. It is visible in the constantly changing nature of technology at work and at home.
Cell phones, pagers, fax machines, palm computers and laptops are all making technology more portable. After an exhaustive effort to prepare for Y2K, businesses are still catching their collective breath. Y2K's beginning is just an unbelievably short 25 days ago. On the upside many businesses are technologically prepared for the next steps into the 21st century.
Will the future include a return to grocery deliveries filled after orders come via phone or computer? Not yet, Jelinski said.
Jelinski said in the last 10 years potential personal shoppers have approached the idea nearly a dozen times. But profit margins may not be enough to entice individuals to that kind of service business.
Ted Schaefer, store owner of Schaefer's Foods in Nisswa, said customers have expressed an interest in online shopping. But Schaefer said other attempts across the nation have not been so successful to date. However, Schaefer's Foods had been keeping an eye on online options for the past 18 months.
"Peoples' time is so valuable to them," Schaefer said. "I think you might see that happen."
It is not hard to see a desire by seasonal residents who may order groceries before leaving the Twin Cities for a northern weekend. Not only could residents order the produce in advance, they could also have it delivered right to their lake home. And home-bound or older residents, of which there is a growing number, may find online ordering an opportunity to avoid icy winter roads.
Drive-up windows on many businesses and convenience stores on nearly every corner point to a consumer desire for quick stops without spending much time shopping. Delivery in the region may be made more difficult because of winding road access around lakes. But if it does happen, produce delivery vehicles will be an echo to an earlier time.
Schaefer remembers riding with his father to deliver groceries in Brainerd. Deliveries days alternated between sides of the city and even involved the taxi service on occasion.
Schaefer said: "Maybe we are coming back around here."
But with all the changes, Jelinski said consumers still want a personal connection and quality customer service. Test markets where customers scanned their own groceries have not had a lot of success, Jelinski noted. With advances and changes ahead, Jelinski added he did not want to lose the home-town flavor.
Other changes may come from the debit check cards. Jelinski said there are areas in the country that do not accept personal checks anymore. Stores gain from having funds confirmed for purchases, ending a need to collect from insufficient fund accounts.
Technology is also altering how quickly produce arrives in area stores and increasing connections between truck deliveries, who may be stopped for a snowstorm en route from California, and grocers in Brainerd.
Grapes are available year round. Bananas arrive from Honduras. Lettuce moves from fields to bagged salad fixings in three to five days. Most items are ready to microwave. And Jelinski said if predictions made 10 years ago included selling bottled water to customers in Minnesota, grocers would have laughed them out of the store.
The future is unpredictable. But continued growth seems assured.
"It's growing faster than what a lot of us thought," Jelinski said of the area. "It's no longer just a destination for a weekend." Nor is the area just a summer destination for that matter. With Home Depot moving toward completion and talk of other businesses coming, some of the existing employers who have been taxed to find more warm bodies may wonder where the additional employees are going to come from.
Jelinski said a store in Rochester closed because they could not get enough workers. Cub Foods expects to add 40 workers for the summer season. Fortunately, Jelinski said, homebound college students and high school students often fill the void in a complementary fashion.
Technology has changed a few things. Grocery stores fax deli menus to area businesses. The menus have been posted in business lunch rooms for more than a year to a reportedly receptive audience.
Jelinski said it is more likely gains in technology, such as the store Web site, will be used to attract employees. Other technology has changed the way grocery stores do business. One is the price scanner.
"That was probably the biggest advance the industry has made," Jelinski said. While scanners sometimes get a bad reputation for discrepancies as they bounce between sales and regular prices, Jelinski said the percentage of error is in fact small. And, he noted, cashiers also made mistakes when they entered prices by hand.
Fifty years from now Jelinski said grocery stores will be recognizable and people will still eat at home.
"The change has been dramatic when you stop and look where we've been and where we are today," Jelinski said. "With Brainerd such a hub where does it end. ... There are going to be technological advances out there. Where it will be though I don't know."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.