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Toronto's grocery delivery and pickup services have gone from mildly popular convenience to overloaded lifeline. Here's what to do if you can't get a slot
With COVID-19 social distancing in full swing, Toronto’s grocery delivery services have gone from moderately popular convenience to overloaded lifeline virtually overnight.
The services’ boom in popularity has come as officials urge the public to stay out of public places as much as possible.
“I am asking people to minimize, where possible, how often they go out each week to get groceries or other essentials – ideally once a week, and if available, even better, to obtain those essentials by ordering online,” Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city’s chief medical officer of health, said in a press conference Tuesday.
But, increasingly, online ordering options are harder to come by.
In recent weeks, users have been met with walls of booked-up slots at popular options like Longo’s Grocery Gateway, No Frills pickup, Loblaws’ Instacart, Costco and delivery app Cornershop, with services left scrambling to meet the demand.
In an email to President’s Choice members, Loblaw president Galen Weston said their e-commerce services were running at “three times the normal level.”
“Two weeks ago, we’d have an order ready in an hour. Now, it can take four days or more,” he said.
Even if they can find an available delivery or pickup time, shoppers have seen those times disappear from sites after they’ve been selected, or items vanishing from carts as they’re added.
Indie operations aren’t exempt from the crunch, either. Fresh City Farms, a local delivery service specializing in local, organic produce and ready-made meals (among other grocery items), has seen “a huge surge of three to five times the normal volume, both in store and online,” management wrote on the service’s site. Fresh City Farms is currently waitlisting new customers.
The crunch has exacerbated the stress felt by disabled, elderly and immunocompromised people who already face difficulties getting groceries and other necessary items. Certain stores, including Fiesta Farms, have begun limiting deliveries strictly to those populations.
With the city now extending social distancing measures for three months and delivery services gradually ramping up to meet the demand, grocery delivery alternatives have become increasingly necessary. If you’re having a hard time finding an opening for grocery delivery, here’s a few things you can try:
If you’ve chosen a specific store location for your delivery or pickup, it might be worth checking the available slots at another location nearby. (At this point, most major grocery services are pretty booked up everywhere – but it doesn’t hurt to look.)
Many grocery services release new slots in batches around midnight or in the early morning – so if you’re having a hard time finding a slot, try checking again at an off-peak time.
A number of grocery stores or markets that don’t normally offer delivery have begun offering remote grocery services in response to the rising demand. Among the recent additions: Annex Market, Bare Market, Galleria Supermarket and Unboxed. Call your local store or check their social media for updates.
Some restaurants are even getting in on the act: Paupers Pub in the Annex has begun offering basic groceries for delivery via UberEats in addition to their takeout menu. Earls has begun offering a range of food boxes, meal kits and even alcohol delivery from its various locations across Canada, and Joey’s has also unveiled grocery delivery.
Catering delivery service GoJava has pivoted to grocery delivery during the pandemic, as has cleaning company No More Chores, while newly-launched service Easypeasy offers produce and “essentials boxes” for delivery within 24 to 48 hours. Food To You launched during the pandemic, and Comfort.To delivers items from Costco (with markup added). Mr. Case, which specializes in (you guessed it) full cases of food products, also has plenty of non-family-size options.
Though it’s not exactly an overnight solution – most deliveries need to be ordered well in advance – you might want to look into ordering a produce box or other food box. Most feature produce from locally-based suppliers, and some of them will allow you to customize the box contents and set up recurring deliveries. Read our full list of Toronto food box options here.
Taxicabs are yet another business hard-hit by the pandemic – but cabbies are also accustomed to doing pickups and deliveries, a service cab companies have been falling back on during the pandemic.
Beck and Co-Op Cabs both offer parcel pickup services that can be used to pick up remote orders if you can place a grocery order remotely and can give the confirmation info to a driver, they may be able to pick it up for you. (Beck has even added a delivery option right on their app.)
Sites like TaskRabbit let you hire people for short jobs, including errands and grocery shopping rates start at roughly $25-$30 per hour.
If you are elderly, disabled, immunocompromised or have suffered job losses, a number of volunteer groups on Facebook – including Good Neighbour Project and Caremongering TO – have been mobilizing community resources to help those unable to access food.
Additionally, a new service called Grocery Hero matches up frontline medical workers with volunteers who can deliver groceries and other supplies at no cost.
If all else fails, ask if someone you know is planning to make a grocery run or can share an online order with you – just be sure to be aware of social distancing best practices when you divvy up your order and try to organize a contactless hand-off if possible.
Meal delivery options from Toronto restaurants