So there will be no aisles; it'll be an open floor plan, with no awkward corners to box customers in. Online ordering for delivery and pickup is baked into the business model. Instead of handwriting labels for bulk foods, customers will use the market's custom-developed iPad program to identify the food based on photo and print out a label. And to avoid long lines at the register, the market is taking a page out of the Apple playbook and hiring roaming cashiers equipped with mobile checkouts.

"Markets haven't changed since we were kids," Milgrom says, and except for the dubious benefit of self-checkout, it's hard to argue with him. "We can use modern systems to make markets better."

With new market models comes competition. Another threat to the supermarket is also on the march: AmazonFresh is rumored to be coming to town later this year.

Amazon. The company blamed for singlehandedly bringing down the brick-and-mortar bookstore and the big-box electronic store. The online shopping juggernaut has been experimenting with home grocery delivery for six years in Seattle and a few months in Los Angeles, and if Amazon's track record is anything to go on, its grocery delivery could change the game for good (Amazon representatives did not respond to our request for comment).

Remember Borders Books, Tower Records, Blockbuster Video: History has shown that some people prefer delivery to retail shopping for certain products. Amazon could overshadow the brick-and-mortar grocery store by using its massive warehouse resources and existing infrastructure to deliver food, and it has the cash to take a loss for a few years as it figures grocery delivery out. And because prices on AmazonFresh are close or equal to those at the grocery store, the question becomes whether consumers think a little added cost equals the added value of delivery — for rich or poor households, for artisanal pickles or mass-farmed eggs.

AmazonFresh does have some local products in its pilot cities, but the majority of its inventory is the kind of stuff you'd find at Safeway. Rob Spiro of Good Eggs isn't worried about the threat to his business; he sees Amazon's foray into groceries as a good thing. "If anything, AmazonFresh is going to educate folks that there's a way to shop for groceries online, and that behavior is becoming mainstream. ... It makes our job of reaching out to customers that much easier," he says.

The two companies are using the same online tools to very different ends: One is building a new distribution chain from the ground up; the other is tweaking the existing system to make it more convenient for consumers. Disruptive technology is, at its core, a grand experiment — it throws a wrench into the established way of doing things and lets the market sort it out. The last major supermarket disruption, the bar code, enabled grocery stores to stock tens of thousands of new items and track them efficiently. With the rise of more precise, and more virtual, food networks, we could be seeing a shift from the mega-market to the meta-market.

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12 comments
ahrengrauer
ahrengrauer

I'm an ex-pat living in Panama. The best produce you've ever had, chicken that actually has flavor, seafood is probably the best in the world. I don't see traditional shopping changing much here.

jenrose1
jenrose1

We started a local co-op about a year ago, in Oregon. It was kind of an accident, but once we started ordering our food as a group, it really took off. Now I get more than 80% of the food we eat from the co-op. We quip that we came for the prices and stayed for the quality. Being able to order the week's organic produce in my jammies and only having to pick it up once a month (people in my neighborhood deliver it the other weeks), combined with near-wholesale pricing  that makes organic produce, grass fed meats and gluten free baked goods affordable is an addictive combination. Not to mention the way it makes working with local farmers easier for us and for the farmers. There is almost no waste to our model, less gas, time and energy spent shopping, less money going out, better quality food coming in... I still buy the occasional stick of butter and bag of chips from our local grocery stores, but our diet has shifted to being more local, more seasonal, and a hell of a lot healthier. Time I used to spend shopping is now spent cooking. Instead of 3-4 shopping trips per week, I now make 3-4 shopping trips per month, and those are much smaller than they used to be. 

Social networks and the cloud make it possible for groups of people without tremendous programming skills to put together thriving groups that use google spreadsheets to order together in bulk. Facebook makes it easy to connect with people in the area. We've gone from a whim to 1100 members in under a year. We're eating the way we want to eat, and paying prices that don't hurt, while doing less harm to our planet. I finished my kid Christmas shopping in September. The adults will be taken care of this month. Our model means everyone is paid up front for exactly the amount of product that is needed. It is an efficient model. We are fortunate to have volunteers so that our overhead is very low, but even on a retail scale, the convenience and quality of food-on-demand vs. more "predictive" attempts to meet anticipated needs has much to offer.

mamablum
mamablum

I love Good Eggs and all that you stand for! It has been a joyful, healthful and exciting change in our lives!! Did I mention convenient? Each and every product I have received thus far has been absolutely fresh and delicious. I am into my third "big" order with you all and I rarely go to the "supermarket".  We are so fortunate to have this abundance in our own backyards. Love it all~here's to our health and the farmers who care!

lakawak
lakawak

Supermarkets will be around long after the last welfare recipient who "worked" at the SF Weekly has been laid in the ground.

thecrud
thecrud

The grocery store is now only for the rich or those with food stamps everyone else has to find another way, churches hunting growing your own barter rob and steal traffic drugs.


Barbara Mcwilliams
Barbara Mcwilliams

I learn something new every day & this qualifies as 'wonderful'.

Dante Forrest
Dante Forrest

Good the supermarket with chemical GMO food will be extinct

Parvati Ben
Parvati Ben

I saw this coming, bought on to it. Great idea. I'm a Good Eggs regular now.

thecrud
thecrud

@lakawak @thecrud 

Too bad you are to young to remember every shopping cart full to the top at the store. Not 3 items as they have today or standing in the meat departments not even half the size they use to be, just standing there not putting any in their carts.

You moron. Guess you have no powers of observation unable to draw a conclusion with a crayon. And no life other than troll unable to add anything useful to any public conversation.

A true loser.

 
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