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Demand for grocery delivery surges due to coronavirus, leaving some waiting weeks

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As Canadians are urged to practise physical distancing and stay indoors to curb the spread of COVID-19, more are turning to grocery delivery services.

Grocery delivery apps like Instacart and Inabuggy have seen an increase in demand, and retailers like Walmart have seen a significant uptick in customers, too. Some shoppers have complained of delivery wait times — up to two weeks, depending on grocery stores and locations — while others told Global News they have experienced unfilled orders due to sold-out items.

Mississauga, Ont.-based Jen Wynne said she tried to order groceries this week from multiple stores with little luck. Wynne said one website crashed, and other retailers were out of items.

READ MORE: What is an essential service? After groceries, it depends where you live in Canada

She said she is avoiding going into grocery stores if she can and is looking after a small child at home.

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“I ordered a ‘click-and-collect’ at the [Real] Canadian Superstore, and the first available time was April 2,” Wynne said. “I also set up a delivery order from Walmart. This is scheduled for April 11.”

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East Vancouver resident Carrie Mac said she recently returned from a trip to the U.S. and went into self-isolation, per public health orders. Since she cannot leave the house, she has been relying on grocery deliveries for herself and two kids.

A week into her quarantine, Mac managed to place an order with Save-On-Foods and Instacart. She said her Instacart order came with most of the items she ordered but no protein or toilet paper.

“Save-On-Foods came with about half of what I ordered, also no protein, no toilet paper and very few grains,” Mac said.

A second advance order placed with Instacart was cancelled, she said, several days before its scheduled delivery. Mac said she received an email from Instacart saying that due to high demand, lack of inventory and shortened store hours, her order could not be completed.

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“I have community that came to my rescue, but I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a single parent or elder living by themselves in quarantine trying to do the right thing by not leaving their home but having to because they can’t get any food delivered,” she said.

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Instacart said on Monday that over the last few weeks, it has seen its volume of orders grow by more than 150 per cent year over year, and the company reported customers were buying more items, too. The app uses contract shoppers to shop for customers at large retailers and grocery stores.

Inabuggy said it is executing “thousands of daily orders” and that customers may experience longer-than-anticipated wait times due to demand.

“We’re doing our best to deliver all orders,” spokesperson Julian Gleizer said.

READ MORE: Want groceries delivered? Options across Canada during the coronavirus outbreak

“We’re definitely looking to hire and are currently hiring hundreds of shoppers to execute on the overwhelming demand.”

Walmart Canada said it is also looking to “immediately hire” 10,000 more associates in its stores and distribution centres, and Instacart said it plans to bring on an additional 300,000 shoppers over the next three months across North America.

The additional workers will hopefully reduce wait times and allow more orders to be processed on a daily basis.

READ MORE: Coronavirus is hurting small businesses. Here’s how to help

For seniors and the immunocompromised, for example, timely delivery services are incredibly important — if not vital.

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Toronto-based Conrad Pow, senior project manager at Diabetes Action Canada, has a daughter with Type 1 diabetes. Because she is immunocompromised, Pow is trying to limit how often he and his family go out.

“This pandemic pushed me to purchase groceries online; I have never done this before,” Pow said.

“The service is reassuring, as we have a young child with a chronic disease… and don’t want to risk anything.”

Pow said he started ordering groceries and household items from Walmart and does about one order a week. Because his child needs certain items to manage her diabetes, it’s important their kitchen is stocked so they can successfully manage her blood sugars.

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“In order to manage this, we have a created a weekly menu and have counted the amount of carbs that we need for her breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said.

“This enables us to order the food that we need without blindly overbuying. In an uncertain time, it’s good to have some sort of consistency — [it] helps make you feel a little bit in control.”
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So far, Pow’s orders have been smooth and without hiccups. He said the delivery time of his first order was a six-day wait and that that’s “not terribly bad considering the demand.”

Carmela Ferro, a content creator, recently got back from a trip to the U.S., and because of self-isolation guidelines, she used PC Delivery to get groceries from a Guelph, Ont.-based Zehrs.

“It was an amazing experience considering the state of things,” Ferro said.

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“Obviously, things were out of stock so [our shopper] helped us find alternatives to what we needed. Within five hours, we had our two weeks worth of food on the doorstep.”

Smooth transactions like Ferro’s help people effectively practise self-isolation, but not everyone lives within a grocery delivery zone.

Anita Gurreri lives in Saint-Eustache, Que., and says there are no delivery options in her town, which has just over 44,000 residents. This is also a common experience for many Canadians who live in more remote areas of the country.

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Gurreri has an 18-month-old child who cannot go to daycare due to COVID-19 closures. Gurreri is working from home, and her husband is in voluntary isolation after he started experiencing some flu-like symptoms.

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To protect her family and others, Gurreri has decided not to go out.

“We, basically, are in full quarantine,” she said.

The only way she has managed to get food supplies is through her sister-in-law, who lives 20 minutes away. Gurreri sends her a grocery list, and she delivers the items to her home.

“Being a new mom and during such stressful times… it would take a load off my back if I had access to all the [delivery] services out there,” she said.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

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Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca