Niagara grocery delivery services see spike in demand during pandemic

(Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily via AP, File)

When the first round of lockdown measures took effect earlier this year, people panicked and hightailed it to grocery stores to stock up the pantry or sheltered at home and called Niagara grocery delivery services like The Shopping Heart.

Serving all of Niagara for almost seven years, owner Amy Welch saw the demand for grocery delivery slam into overdrive, as her primarily elderly and physically-limited clientele reached out for help.

“I was getting three times the call volume,” said Welch, who was running around eight orders per day, upwards of six days a week.”

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“My shopping day used to start super early because everything was gone after 2 p.m.,” she said. “It took a good four months to finally see yeast come back on the shelf.”

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Jody Midgley, who runs Grocery Grabber, serving St. Catharines and Niagara Falls with his wife Mirella, has received calls from adult children across the globe, concerned with how their parents back here were going to access groceries.

“We were definitely getting a lot of new calls,” Midgley said of early on in the pandemic. He could barely keep up with demand.

Adapting to the increase, Midgley now takes orders a day in advance and made the decision in April to limit the grocery stores he visits to three Sobeys locations, allowing more customers to be served without having to run around town to different places.

Limiting the locations visited will also make contact tracing easier in the event of a coronavirus exposure.

Welch admits that being continually exposed to high-traffic grocery stores during a pandemic worries her.

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“I actually go for a COVID-19 test every single week because I don’t want to be that person who accidentally passes it onto the clients? I’d rather be responsible and take care of myself and my clients. If I go down, who’s going to take care of them?” she said.

At Commisso’s Fresh Foods in Niagara Falls, president Rocco Commisso said the family-run grocery store was pushed online by the pandemic faster than anticipated, as retail moved from the store aisle to the screen. Requests for deliveries also spiked.

“When we launched in April, it was going crazy, to the point where we almost couldn’t handle it and then it levelled off in the summer,” Rocco said. At the time, they were processing 40 to 50 orders per day.

Going into the summer months, demand dropped as people adjusted and became comfortable returning to stores.

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Community Support Services of Niagara, which responded to the pandemic by starting a grocery delivery service in April, saw deliveries dip from 102 deliveries in May to 70 in July. Deliveries peaked at 118 in October and remained high at 105 in November.

As Niagara Region prepares to join the rest of southern Ontario for a 28-day grey zone “lockdown” starting on Boxing Day, demand for grocery delivery service is rising again.

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“(It’s) starting to peak again; literally just this past week, a lot of customers are calling anticipating what’s happening,” Midgley said.

Online orders are also reaching peak levels again at Commisso’s.

By now, both Welch and Midgley are seasoned pandemic shoppers, with enough clients gained throughout the year to sustain them into the future.

The hope this time around is for less panic buying as the region settles into the grey zone.

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