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Instacart president Nilam Ganenthiran talks growth, challenges and opportunities for the grocery delivery giant

Founded in 2012 by entrepreneur Apoorva Mehta (a graduate of Canada’s own University of Waterloo), California-based Instacart was a relatively early entrant into the North American grocery delivery scene. Eight years later, Instacart is a household name across the United States and Canada, with Canadian retail partners including the likes of Loblaw, Walmart, T&T Supermarket, Costco and M&M Food Market.

Here, Canadian Grocer chats with the Toronto-based president of Instacart, Nilam Ganenthiran, about the challenges and opportunities 2020 has brought.

Nilam Ganenthiran

2020 was challenging across the board. How’s it going for Instacart?
Everyone is a customer of a grocery store but, prior to March, a small fraction of groceries were bought online in Canada and the U.S. We always believed more people would get their groceries online in the coming years, but with COVID-19 we’ve seen adoption accelerate significantly. Over the last year, we’ve seen an unprecedented surge in customer demand with more customers than ever before using Instacart. As a result, we’ve welcomed more than 150 new retail partners and more than 10,000 new stores to the Instacart marketplace this year, giving customers more choice and selection. Today, more retailers and customers are relying on us than ever before, and that’s a responsibility we don’t take lightly.

How did you manage the soaring demand at the start of the pandemic?
The health and safety of the entire Instacart community has been, and remains, our first priority. Over the last several months, our teams have worked to ensure we can reliably serve the millions of customers turning to Instacart as an essential service. We’ve launched more than 15 new products as part of a COVID-19 rapid response product roadmap that we designed to meet the changing needs of customers and shoppers in the early days of the pandemic. We introduced “Leave at My Door” delivery, and we rolled out new delivery window options like “Fast & Flexible” and “Order Ahead” to improve availability for customers. We also expanded our Instacart shopper community to meet the increase in customer demand—growing from 200,000 shoppers at the beginning of March to more than 500,000 active shoppers today.

What are some other challenges you’ve had this year?
Early on, with bulk buying and product shortages impacting stores across North America, one of the biggest challenges we saw across the industry was item availability. We’ve worked closely with our retail partners to address this by making substantial changes to our “Item Availability Model” and introducing new in-app features for customers like “Out of Stock” badges and item limits. These enhancements have made it easier for customers and shoppers to quickly understand what’s out of stock and immediately explore replacements.

The flipside of challenge is opportunity—how have you seized opportunities this year?
In the wake of the pandemic, Instacart became an essential service for millions of people across North America. With this increase in demand, we’ve found more ways to reach across the digital aisles of our retail partners to give customers access to more products and more selection. This includes expanding our alcohol delivery offering to more states and retailers; adding office supply delivery across the U.S. and Canada with Staples; extending our household essentials offering with Costco Canada; and providing health, beauty and wellness goods from Sephora.

Pandemic aside, what’s new and exciting for Instacart?
We’re constantly expanding our offerings to meet the needs of our retailer partners and their customers. This focus has been core to our business, and is shown through the growth of our marketplace offering and Instacart Enterprise products. Over the course of the last year, we’ve expanded our marketplace with the addition of features like Rx delivery with Costco, a new Instacart Meals product for made-to-order food from Publix, and the addition of more than 1,500 new Instacart Pickup locations across North America. We’ve also continued to drive the growth of our Instacart Enterprise product. Today, national and regional retailers—including many in the last year like Costco Canada—have partnered with Instacart to digitize their catalogs, build online storefronts, and develop their ordering, fulfillment, pickup and delivery e-commerce channels. We continue to tailor all of our products and services to meet the needs of our retailers and their customers, and look forward to iterating on these offerings in the months and years to come.

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