Grocery shopping is an aspect of society that’s slow to change. Many retailers are still figuring out how to get customers to use digital coupons and to put their carts back in the stall in the parking lot.
But in the past decade, we have welcomed meal kits, reusable bags and curbside pickup or delivery to our grocery routines, and we’re ever more likely to stop for a bite to eat or a glass of wine before or after we shop.
Here are 10 ways that grocery shopping has changed in the past 10 years:
Curbside pickup or delivery: A decade ago, grocery chains hadn’t quite figured out e-commerce. Ordering groceries online for delivery was common only in New York City, and curbside pickup was relegated to Outback Steakhouse. Today, nearly every store offers some alternative way for you to get your groceries home, many investing millions in technologies to streamline the process. It’s now common to see shoppers from Instacart (or Shipt, Favor or Burpy) buying groceries while you’re in a store.
Reusable bags are holding strong: Another sight I didn’t think I’d see is the prevalence of reusable bags, even after the city of Austin’s bag ban was shot down by the state. The so-called bag ban was implemented in 2013, and within a year, shoppers, perhaps compelled by the drastic reduction of litter along roadways, grew accustomed to bringing their own bags. The ban was overruled in 2018, but I still see far more people using canvas or otherwise reusable bags than the single-use ones.
Meal kits and ready-to-cook meals: HelloFresh launched the first major national meal kit company in 2011, followed by Blue Apron and Plated, and it didn’t take long for grocery stores to take notice that customers like the idea of buying all the ingredients for a certain dish at the same time. H-E-B and other large-scale retailers have started making their own meal kits, and though Albertsons bought Plated in 2017, the company just announced that it is shifting away from meal kits in favor of even easier ready-to-heat and ready-to-bake meals, which have also proven popular at places like H-E-B.
Small is big: Grocery companies are realizing that not everyone loves shopping in 100,000-square-foot supermarkets. Walmart doubled the number of its neighborhood market stores between 2013 and 2015, and Trader Joe’s and Aldi, both known for their small footprints, were among the biggest local grocery openings of the 2010s. In Austin, upscale convenience markets, such as Royal Blue and Thom’s, have popped up in nearly every neighborhood in the city.
In-house restaurants and bars: Nobody wants to shop for groceries while they are hungry — or ready for a beer after work — and supermarkets are responding by adding in-house eateries where you can get barbecue or roasted chicken at H-E-B, a glass of wine at Central Market or ramen or pizza at Whole Foods. The planned H-E-B on South Congress will have an entire food hall.
The end of weeknight farmers markets, in Austin at least: Blame this one on traffic. The Triangle and Mueller Wednesday markets closed in the past few years, and so did a few other weeknight markets that were spread around Central Texas. Dripping Springs’ farmers market is still on Wednesday nights, with Pflugerville’s market on Tuesdays and Fredericksburg’s on Thursday, but evening traffic has gotten bad enough that shoppers in Austin couldn’t make the after-work markets anymore.
Local brands go big: Local produce and meat became a big deal in the 2000s, but the 2010s were all about local food brands, the companies that make snacks, drinks, frozen foods, prepared foods, sauces, spices and more. Austin’s consumer packaged goods economy grew significantly in the past decade, with dozens of local brands hitting even more stores nationwide. These kinds of local food companies are a big deal, no matter which part of the country you’re in, which leads to even more entrepreneurs looking for ways to innovate in the food space.
Organics, kombucha and other "hippie foods": Ten years ago, you couldn’t get organic milk just anywhere. Now, a majority of markets carry it, not to mention at least a few ingredients or products that were once available only at natural food stores, including kale, quinoa, kombucha, chia seeds and oat milk, to name a few.
Dollar stores are getting fresh: Not all dollar stores carry fresh food, but more of them do now than in 2010. The grocery section of these low-cost stores has certainly grown in the past 10 years, and we’ll continue to see fresh produce, meats, dairy and prepared foods in these neighborhood stores.
Sparkling water gets its own aisle: Of all the food trends this decade, the sparkling water craze seems to take up the most square feet of any store. With countless brands jumping in, this segment of the beverage industry is increasingly competitive, and the cases take up significantly more space in the physical stores.