Victoria grocers ready for Amazon delivery invasion

Online retailing giant Amazon’s foray into the grocery market in Canada doesn’t seem to be fazing the Victoria-based veterans of the grocery-delivery game.

Thrifty Foods, which has offered an online delivery service since 2004, is taking the news Amazon will now be delivering food directly to Canadians’ doorsteps very much in stride.

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“We’re not too concerned. Our online shopping program has been growing in popularity, especially in the last few years,” said Christian Arbez, Thrifty Foods’ manager of web, online and customer service. “We’ve been doing it since 2004 and we focus on fresh — the same quality and freshness customers have come to expect from us at Thrifty Foods is the same experience customers receive online.”

Amazon launched its grocery service Thursday with an initial selection of 15,000 non-perishable products such as coffee, cereal and baby food from Campbell, Nestle, Pepsi and Kellogg.

The launch doesn’t include perishables such as milk, fruits or vegetables.

Arbez said the difference is the variety and freshness people can get from Thrifty Foods, which offers online delivery in all of its markets except Saltspring Island. “One of the competitive advantages we have is the trust in our brand,” he said, noting that is crucial when picking a customer’s fruit, vegetables and meat products. “For many, grocery shopping is a personal thing.”

Arbez said the online delivery service, which costs customers $4.95 for pick-up, $7.95 for next-day delivery and $9.95 for same-day delivery, processes hundreds of orders a week.

It remains a small but growing percentage of the overall business.

“There’s a growing acceptance for shopping for groceries online,” said Arbez. “In 2004, it was a bit of a far-out idea.”

Douglas Bourque, grocery manager for the Market on Yates, said the fresh component of their delivery service will ensure it stands apart from Amazon. “To be honest I don’t see it as a threat,” he said.

The Market stores, which deliver orders more than $25 for free, still require the customer to come into the store and do the shopping. The groceries are then delivered later in the day. “We are definitely driven by fresh, and our customers can pick their own apples or meat. Everyone is particular,” he said.

For the Market, delivery is a fraction of its business — from three to 15 orders a day for the Yates Street store, for example — and tends to be used by people working downtown who will shop on a break and have their purchases delivered, or older customers who don’t want to lug heavy bags.

According to Amazon.ca country manager Alexandre Gagnon, the next step is to grow its lineup of products.

“No one customer is the same, so our focus is on providing a broad selection of brands so that customers can easily and instantly find and buy exactly what they are looking for,” he said.

Amazon said most of its food items can be shipped without extra charge to people who subscribe to its two-day delivery service, Amazon Prime, which costs $79 a year.

In the U.S., Amazon recently started testing the sale of a broader selection of groceries under the label AmazonFresh, which ships staples such as milk, and fruits and vegetables, to consumers in Los Angeles and Seattle.e

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