Shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables is a tactile experience. We want to touch, smell and feel the produce before we add it to the cart. Or at least it was. 

The spread of COVID-19 forced us to give up this preference for personally selecting fresh produce. Now, we shop online, relying on someone else to pick and deliver it. 

In India, grocery sales through the internet have grown by 80%. In the US, almost 60% of consumers are buying their groceries online. In Europe, online sales are higher than they were before the pandemic.

Against this backdrop, we take a look at what e-grocers must do to offer the best quality to customers. 

The strong point of online grocery delivery:

With an increase in online grocery shopping, the final leg of the fresh produce journey, where the product lands in a customer’s kitchen, has become significant. 

Offer a winning last-mile delivery service, and you not only retain customers but also expand the consumer base. In addition, these loyal customers are ready to spend more. 

The weak spots of last-mile delivery:

The problem is that, with more people shifting to online buying, meeting the increasing demand hurts profits.

Given that grocery baskets typically contain low-cost items, it’s a thin-margin business. Even a small slice of that margin, be it for any reason, has an unfortunate effect.

The challenges themselves vary from high delivery costs to customer expectations of quality, from too frequent deliveries to tedious returns. Then there is the labor-intensive task of sorting. Employees must sort through different fruits and vegetables to find the right quality to fulfill orders. 

And, of course, spoilage is ever prevalent. The majority of produce, except tropical fruits and vegetables like pineapples, needs cold storage to remain fresh. 

However, when in transit, the cold chain breaks. It is hard to keep the fresh produce at the correct temperatures at that point, which deteriorates the quality further. 

Making up for the lack:

How, then, do online grocery providers bolster their capabilities?

By giving their quality a boost and making up for the deterioration that occurs during last-mile delivery. 

  • Improve quality management

Use mobile tools that measure quality. Rely on AI to assess tomatoes, apples, spinach, etc. from crates or shelves, instead of an employee. It removes human error and bias, ensuring every delivery that goes out offers the same superior quality to customers.

Let’s explain it better with cherries. The human eye is not equipped to measure nuances in colors and therefore judge the degree of ripeness. But computer vision coupled with machine learning has that ability. So, it can assess accurately when cherries will be best for delivery.

cherries, online delivery

cherry, online delivery

online grocery delivery 1

Best delivered today 
Best delivered in 2 days
Best delivered in 5 days

At the same time, these tools improve process efficiency. How? By automatically filtering out all defective fruits and vegetables, preventing any customer returns.

  • Automate dark store operations

A heavy chunk of the cost that online fresh produce delivery providers bear is human labor. And that labor spends most of its time on quality inspections. A case study we did along with one of the largest retail chains in India showed that physical checks consume up to 4 hours/person/day.

Automating this part of the dark store or retail store operations brings the obvious advantage of speed. The quality inspection process is faster and can be done several times a day, allowing more order fulfillment. 

But the more profitable benefit is precise and consistent produce quality, reducing the cost associated with unhappy customers and returns. 

The bottom line:

Brand recognition and loyalty come when e-grocers deliver consistent fresh produce quality and offer the same customer experience time and again. Digitizing and automating quality assessment goes a long way towards achieving it. 



Ronnie De La Cruz

Ronnie De La Cruz, a fresh produce supply chain veteran, has partnered with Intello  Labs to implement new go-to-market strategies for the US region. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.


Written by Intellolabs