Amazon expands secure food delivery options to parts of CT - including inside your garage

Photo of Luther Turmelle

Amazon is upping the ante in Connecticut as it seeks to capture a larger share of Connecticut’s online grocery market.

The Seattle-based e-commerce giant announced Tuesday that its Key by Amazon In-Garage Grocery Delivery is expanding to include portions of the Hartford and New Haven markets.

The expansion is part of a larger roll-out involving more than 5,000 cities and towns across the country. Amazon already has an online grocery presence in Connecticut through its Whole Foods subsidiary.

Key by Amazon In-Garage Grocery Delivery is essentially the same as its Whole Foods home delivery service, with one noticeable exception: It uses a mobile phone app that gives delivery drivers a one-time code they can use to open automatic garage door openers.

That way, company officials said, a delivery person can place a food order inside a garage to prevent theft and keep merchandise safe from the elements. The service is available free of charge to Amazon Prime members.

Burt Flickinger, managing director of New York City based Strategic Resource Group, said Amazon’s garage delivery service appeals to consumers who fear having their online orders reach their front doorstep, only to be stolen after the items are delivered.

“People are worried that these so-called ‘porch pirates’ will follow the delivery drivers around and steal hundreds of dollars worth of food and merchandise,” Flickinger said.

Although delivery of Whole Foods groceries is already available in Connecticut, it is limited to a select group of zip codes.

New Haven residents in the 06511 zip code, for example, can get Whole Foods home delivery. But it is not available to those living in Cheshire’s 06410 zip code, even though the company has a warehouse located there.

Once a rarity in Connecticut, the online ordering and home delivery of groceries has exploded since the COVID-19 hit the United States in March 2020.

Some grocery chains have their own online shopping operations, like Stop & Shop’s Peapod offering, ShopRite and WalMart. But there are also third-party providers like Instacart, Sunbasket and Fresh Direct, which makes home deliveries in seven lower Fairfield County communities.

A subcategory of third-party providers consists of companies that sell slightly imperfect — but still edible — produce. Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market are two of the leading names in that market.

Another category within the online third-party food delivery market is meal kits providers. Businesses like HelloFresh and Freshly offer prepared meals that customers only need to heat and serve. The type of foods they deliver are based on preferences customers enter online.

But even with so many online delivery options, some retail experts don’t see the importance of bricks-and-mortar declining anytime soon.

“I don’t know that it will become predominant,” David Cadden, a professor emeritus at Quinnipiac University’s School of Business, said of online grocery service.

Cadden said there will always be a segment of supermarket consumers who favor in-person visits because of the way food and other types of merchandise is presented.

“Stew Leonard’s has far fewer items in its stores than Stop & Shop, but has higher sales,” he said. “The feeling is, once you’re inside a Stew Leonard’s, you want to see what’s in that next aisle and around that next corner.”

Flickinger said the supermarket industry is approaching a crossroads. Sales grew during COVID-19; but now, as more people are getting vaccinated, the amount of groceries being purchased for cooking at home has started to decline, he said.

“I expect there will still be some consumer trepidation about going into stores (in the short term),” Flickinger said. “You’ll probably see between 20 and 30 percent of consumers still order their groceries online.”

Taking a longer view, he said that online grocery shopping will continue to grow because of generational shifts.

“For people 30-years-old and older, they will continue to do in-store grocery shopping,” Flickinger said. “But for much younger people, those who are 18-to-29, so much of their experience is online that I expect to see them buy at least half their groceries there.”

Prior to COVID-19, 90 percent of all grocery shopping was done in-store, he said. But as younger people age, some of their purchases be made in-person instead of online.

“My expectation is that they will continue to order non-perishable items online, even as they return to stores for some of their food items,” he said.

luther.turmelle@hearstmediact.com