The digitisation of groceries
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an inevitable eCommerce boom as consumers were forced to rely on online shopping throughout the various lockdowns rather than venture to shops - and this trend was particularly noticeable when it came to Grocery shopping. The question now, is whether the boom will be sustained, even as lockdown restrictions ease and more adults continue to receive vaccinations.
Here, Startups Magazine speaks to Askar Bulegenov, Founder and CEO of the one-hour grocery delivery app, Grocemania, who believes that this trend is here to stay.
Tell me about your startup and what you do?
Grocemania is a grocery delivery app. Launched in February 2019, Grocemania’s app and online platform allows consumers to buy groceries from local stores, including the likes of Nisa, Londis and Spar stores located in BP petrol stations, as well as independent retailers.
Grocemania is currently operational across Greater London, Cardiff, Bristol and Brighton, as well as large portions of Yorkshire and the Midlands. We can deliver groceries in under an hour.
Where did the idea come from?
When considering grocery delivery services, my Co-founder Alexandr Zhexembayev and I felt that the market was crying out for more responsive, faster options. People cannot always book supermarkets deliveries days in advance, while others simply do not shop like that, preferring to make choices on the day.
So, we decided to develop an app that connects customers to local grocery suppliers, while giving them the flexibility to fit orders around their own schedule. At the same time, rather than just having to choose one retailer, we let them choose from a variety of high-quality suppliers, which they may not have otherwise used.
What technology is involved?
In addition to the app itself, we are particularly proud of our Point of Sale (POS) terminal. The software has proven invaluable to our retail partners in helping them to effectively manage their eStores. Our sophisticated state-of-the-art system allows our clients to track their sales, manage their stock, and improve the efficiency of their customers’ journeys.
What’s more, our software is incredibly easy to use, so retailers needn’t lose business days to install and learn how it works. What’s more, as our terminal was created in-house, we know it like the back of our hand, so the Grocemania team are on hand to provide help as needed.
How many are on your team?
Firstly, we have myself as director of Grocemania and my co-founder, Alexandr Zhexembayev as director of operations. We’re both responsible for driving business deals and ensuring our expansion and various regional launches all go to plan.
The day-to-day running of our business, including our marketing, HR and administrative functions are run by a succinct team of enthusiastic international graduates from the likes of the UK, Kazakhstan, Korea and Russia. The mix of cultures, in addition to years of knowledge gained on local environments, helps us understand the exact wants of our customers.
What is the main goal?
Our mission is simple; the Grocemania team endeavours to bring all consumers in the UK a cost-effective and efficient grocery delivery service. Various delivery services in major UK cities are booming, but we are keen to expand on this, and ensure those who don’t live in urban areas have access to the same quality offering. People shouldn’t endure second class service because they don’t live in a city.
We’re already on our way to achieving this goal. Since the launch of the app in February 2019, over 300 retailers and producers have already signed up to the app and are trading independently across the UK; these range from major brands including Nisa, Londis and Spar stores located in BP petrol stations through to independent and local retailers. Our ever-growing library of partners ensures that all our valued app users can access the best quality produce, no matter where they are.
What makes your business different from others?
I believe Grocemania offers the perfect balance of convenience and quality. Many people often feel that they must compromise on one or the other (in some cases both), with many of the services they experience - particularly if they live outside of a major city – being below par.
In more rural areas, for example, we’ve heard of people who have food services available to them, but they must wait over two hours to receive a takeaway order, or even book grocery shops weeks in advance. Others may receive a quicker service, but at the expense of the product quality.
With Grocemania, however, customers can receive the delivery within an hour of ordering it, and our partnerships with major brands, as well as independent retailers, ensure that all products are of the highest quality.
What has your funding journey been like so far?
We’ve enjoyed great success throughout our funding journey so far. In our latest funding round, we exceeded our own expectations by raising £173,000; given our initial target was £100,000, we were delighted with the result.
Demand for grocery delivery services has soared throughout the pandemic; and the enthusiasm among our investors reflects this. Raising investment can be a stressful time for any startup, but now we have overfunded, some of the pressure has been taken off, and we can accelerate the nationwide growth of the company.
What have some of the biggest challenges been so far?
As was the case for many UK businesses, the main challenge for us was to survive the pandemic. While demand for grocery delivery services was high throughout, our success was not guaranteed. For example, some prospective grocers may have been reluctant to explore new digital solutions, while British consumers themselves may have been less open to a new platform in times of uncertainty, instead sticking to options that they are familiar with.
We were able to overcome this challenge, thanks to the quality of our service offering. From a retailer perspective, our app enabled them to connect with a wider range of clientele. The fact that we also offer a free Point of Service (POS) terminal to help them control their eStore, along with 24 hour support and access to our own rider network, helped clients to view Grocemania as less of a risk to their business, but rather a useful extension of it.
For app users, I think the sheer convenience of our service helped us to overcome the challenges presented by COVID. The fact they can receive deliveries within an hour of ordering them proves the value of Grocemania. As such, we were lucky enough to ride out the storm caused by COVID-19, and we are now looking to the future with confidence.
How has your business managed or adapted during COVID?
Of course, throughout the pandemic, our priority was the safety and wellbeing of the team, so we implemented a remote working policy. Operationally speaking, doing so caused little disruption. As a startup with an international management team, we are used to working remotely between various meetings and talking regularly between ourselves and partners via video conferencing platforms - so the team were able to adapt to permanent remote working with little issue. Although we did, of course, check in with each other on a regular basis to let off steam and ensure that the team were all happy and healthy.
In terms of the business itself, our model was well suited to the circumstances of a pandemic. After all, it requires minimal in-person contact for a retailer to set themselves up on Grocemania, and contact can be limited between the delivery service and app users.
That said, the pandemic highlighted the various ways in which we could improve our service. So, we have decided to enter into the dark store sector. These are essentially large warehouses that allow us to store the produce of our local partners and deliver them at a faster pace. For example, the opening of our first dark store in Kingston, West London, will allow us to deliver groceries to local app users within 10 to 15 minutes.
What sort of effects has the pandemic had on your industry?
Demand of grocery delivery has soared throughout the pandemic. This is hardly surprising, given the various social distancing measures that prevented many of us from leaving our houses. And with many of the major supermarket delivery slots being booked up for months – particularly at the beginning of the pandemic - people were in need of an alternative service. As such, we have seen a rise in demand for the convenience, and safety, that is offered by rapid grocery delivery services, such as Grocemania.
Even as lockdown restrictions begin to ease, I don’t anticipate a decline in demand will decline. After all, there will still be individuals who feel anxious about entering a shop, while others will simply prefer the convenience of one-hour grocery deliveries to their front door. So, I imagine many retailers will look to diversify their service with a digital offering, thereby allowing customers to connect to and order from their store remotely. Doing so will allow retailers to tap into customers which may have otherwise been beyond their remit. And of course, Grocemania is on hand to assist producers in such a way.
What do you have planned for the future?
In short, further nationwide expansion. Since summer 2020, we have already expanded our operations beyond London, to Bristol, Cardiff, Brighton, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield. We have ambitions to reach even further, to the likes of Newcastle and Manchester later this year.
Of course, our priority is to continue providing customers the most efficient service possible, which is why we are excited to enter the dark store sector, launching first in Kingston then later in Twickenham in early July. By September, we aim to open a further 16 dark stores across the North of England (our focus will be opening stores in less urban areas to serve the often overlooked rural communities).
Dark stores have disrupted the food delivery sector throughout the past 12 months - and understandably so. They offer local stores a more cost-effective storage system, while providing consumers with a more efficient service.
It was fitting, therefore, that Grocemania expand into such an exciting new market – we are constantly looking for ways to improve and innovate our offering, and our dark store expansion strategy will take us to the next level. With an even quicker delivery service, and more efficient stock management technology, we are confident that our plans will allow us to better support local businesses and satisfy the needs of our valued users.