As you’ve likely heard by now, Amazon has made an enormous bid to be your grocery store. It just bought Whole Foods for nearly $14 billion, which will pair well with the Dash Wand, a gadget you stick to your fridge and yell your grocery order at.
It’s fun to read about, but what does this mean for your day to day? A lot of change, and surprisingly quickly.
Grocery Delivery Is Becoming A Thing
The biggest change is that you can expect your grocery chain to suddenly be intensely interested in delivering your food. Grocery delivery has been a Silicon Valley darling, and one of Amazon’s preoccupations, for a while. And with reason: Grocery shopping is a trillion dollar industry, and a task ripe for “disrupting.” Most of us don’t particularly want to spend an hour going through the aisles of a windowless building listening to the world’s most inoffensive Spotify playlist.
Every grocery store will watch Amazon’s moves closely, and likely imitate them.
Local, Seasonal Produce And Food Will Become More Important
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That said, grocery delivery isn’t terribly green. After all, you’re paying somebody to drive to your house and dump off food. That’s going to leave every chain, and Amazon, looking for green advantages. Expect to hear, quite a bit, about Amazon or Kroger’s earth-friendly fleet of electric delivery vehicles shortly. But for a lot of stores, it’s going to make sourcing food locally much more important. Local food, provided it’s grown the right way, is much lighter on the environment than flying in oranges from Argentina.
Amazon Is About To Experiment With “Disrupting” Retail, For Better Or Worse
Amazon has been making noises about jumping to the real world for quite a while. Back in December, it showed off a concept of a cashierless grocery store called Amazon Go, where you walked in, grabbed stuff off the shelf, and walked out. But Amazon’s grand experiment has turned out to be something of a mess, not least because if it gets too busy, the store crashes. Yes, like your phone, except with no employees that means people just blithely walked out the door and accidentally became shoplifters.
It’s unlikely Whole Foods will become Amazon Go writ large tomorrow. But Amazon now has a testing lab for its various retail ideas, complete with test subjects who will just show up to buy some cheese and find themselves trapped in a study.
Food Deserts Are About To Become Amazon’s Problem
Grocery delivery would theoretically be a great way to solve the problem of food deserts. After all, it doesn’t matter if your grocery store is located two towns over if the groceries come to you. The problem, of course, is the same as it’s ever been; Whole Foods has never been interested in addressing the inequities of how Americans eat, and it’s unlikely Amazon is about to drastically change this aspect, Prime discounts or not. Getting your food through Amazon will cost you a Prime subscription ($100 a year) and $15 a month ($180 a year), for a total of $280 a year. That’s almost what your average American spends on groceries in a week.
Amazon is, at least in theory, trying to get food to the people who want it, and they’re likely about to be asked some extremely pointed questions about why the people who most need access to better food at better prices aren’t getting it. What solution they offer, if any, will say a lot about the future of eating better in America when you can’t afford it.
For Some, It’s The End Of An Era
To be clear, this isn’t a merger; this is a filling dinner of Kobe steak with a side of asparagus water. Amazon has bought up Whole Foods. It’s no longer an independent entity. And that means changes. This was inevitable, to some degree. Whole Foods sold itself because it’d faced a solid year and a half of downturns thanks to mainstream grocery stores selling more Whole Foods-esque products at a much better price.
But that’s the business side. Culturally, Whole Foods was the retail outlet of a certain belief system among affluent Americans — people who will scoff at those shoeless hillbillies denying the realities of climate change but won’t judge the woman in yoga class talking about chemtrails. Intentionally or not, Whole Foods catered to the ugly and uniquely American idea that the richer you are, the better you are as a person, right down to your physical health.
It’s unlikely Amazon will cater to that idea. Really, if it wants to sell food to the rest of us, it can’t. And perhaps, in the end, that’s not a bad thing.