Last week, the CDC released a statement warning US consumers not to eat romaine lettuce until the source of the latest E. Coli outbreak was located. Homes and grocers across America heaved their romaine lettuce into trash cans, leaving shelves and Thanksgiving salad bowls alike empty for the holiday break.
But have grocers’ digital properties followed suit?
When deciding on food and beverage purchases, consumers most value timely health-related information, according to Gartner L2’s Digital IQ Index: Grocery. Despite the continued advancement of digital and physical properties by brick-and-mortar grocers, including recent warehouse improvements from Kroger and Albertsons, fulfillment partners and digital grocers still lead when it comes to the availability of sophisticated omnichannel and quality information on-site.
Digital grocers have leaned into their product page sophistication, particularly for fresh produce, where customers frequently mistrust the quality of fresh ingredients. For example, freshdirect.com includes best-in-class quality reassurances, cross-selling functionality, and up-to-date information on its product pages.
A recent search for “romaine lettuce” on freshdirect.com shows listings as “unavailable,” and product pages reinforce the point by describing and linking to the CDC’s warning about romaine lettuce, clearly informing potential customers. For the same query on Instacart, users are not served any product listings. Instead, the site states that “Due to a CDC warning, we cannot deliver romaine lettuce at this time.”
Traditional grocers have done less to update the relevancy of their online listings. One retailer had product pages with one-star reviews decrying the CDC’s warning, while curious customers saw their questions receive vague answers. And while 10% of omnichannel leaders feature live inventory on product pages, Target and others still list the produce item as “available” at many locations.
The FDA recently turned to food safety experts from Walmart to help institute broad reform within their food monitoring technologies, though it may be some time before those technologies roll out across food production facilities. In the meantime, digital players are continuing to double down on product transparency and technology improvements on product and search pages. Until traditional retailers can bridge disparate site experiences and up-to-date inventory information, a growing interest in online grocery ordering may find more trust in digital grocers—and their lettuce.