Coronavirus Chronicles — Eating E-Commerce; and a Classic Dish

Online grocery shopping is definitely a “thing,” and currently the concept is not very well-developed. The experts who create systems of this kind did not anticipate a significant demand for perhaps another five years. But during the current pandemic, it is a life-changer for people who either must stay at home, or who choose to.

For, Zara Stone writes about the frustration of trying to order groceries online, only to find that the next available delivery date is two weeks in the future. Here is what happened to one hopeful shopper:

She spent over an hour loading up her online cart, only to find numerous items suddenly “out of stock” at checkout, and no free delivery slots available. “Why did they let me think I could order it if they didn’t have it?” she says.

The problem is, up until this virus complication showed up, online shopping was an option. Suddenly, for many Americans, it became a necessity, but the infrastructure (both digital and physical) simply isn’t there.

Retailers have not been particularly anxious to push this model, for an obvious reason: Somebody needs to go around the store and assemble the customer’s order, and deliver it. That’s a lot of extra work, and the employees who do it need to be paid. As we know, the trend has been to make customers do more, not less, of the labor themselves — like ring up their own orders at checkout. This sudden reversal is not welcome.

Service does not generate profit

Especially in a situation where fresh food is being sold, it is difficult to keep everything properly refrigerated and clean, and at the same time convenient enough for orders to be deftly assembled. The delivery mechanism has to be up and running, because you can’t have people’s perishable items sitting around.

Grocery stores are not designed for speedy, efficient pass-through. The concept is to keep the customer wandering as long as possible through the maze, adding more and more items to the cart. (One particular pharmacy chain has achieved peak manipulative engineering, with aisles designed with disorienting cattywampus angles, making it possible to literally get lost in the store.)

In this respect, corporate greed has shot itself in the foot. When employees on the time-clock need to find products, a expansive and purposely confusing layout is “not conducive to e-commerce.” Stone makes favorable mention of the online-only startup, Farmstead. Its “dark store” model makes maximum use of the physical space, which holds…

[…] a smaller “but curated” selection of groceries; a thousand or so items, instead of the 45,000 found at major chains. Inside, items are sorted by popularity, not mandated sections; the goal is quick fulfillment, not browsing.

Farmstead’s entrepreneurial CEO, Pradeep Elankumaran, revealed that since the pandemic and sheltering-in-place, customers have bought “a lot, lot, more mac and cheese.” Looking back, Childhood Obesity News finds that much has been said here about the iconic side dish.

The following quotations paint a clear picture:

On the comfort food value scale:

Chocolate and ice cream tied for second, each garnering 7 percent, followed by mac & cheese and chips, which earned 5 percent and 4 percent respectively.

On the concept of Ultimate Junk Food:

Fried mac-and-cheese, available at one of the standard fast-food chains, is a strong contender.

On deep-seated need and emotional eating:

Is macaroni and cheese this person’s go-to comfort food because of properties intrinsic to the macaroni and/or cheese?

On universality and inevitability of the junk food lure:

Even the most refined foodies were once kids who probably picked at their plates and blew off anything that wasn’t PB&J or mac ‘n’ cheese.

On the surrender:

Does this mean that we should blithely succumb to the lure of… fried mac ‘n cheese?

On prioritizing food choices in time of crisis:

Bring on the macaroni.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Real Reason It’s So Hard to Order Groceries Online Right Now,”, 04/23/20
Image by Ed Bierman/(CC BY 2.0)

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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