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Uber's grocery journey

Canadian Grocer chats with Uber Eats Canada GM Lola Kassim about the tech company’s foray into grocery delivery

When ride-sharing app giant Uber announced last year that it was acquiring a majority stake in Cornershop, a Chile-based grocery delivery startup, it was clear it was only a matter of time before we would see Uber entering the grocery delivery space. This July, Uber launched its new grocery delivery service in Toronto and Montreal (with retailers including Walmart, Metro, Organic Garage, Galleria, Costco and Longo’s signing on with the service), followed by August launches in Ottawa, Gatineau and Quebec City. Here we chat with Lola Kassim, general manager of Uber Eats Canada, to learn more about Uber’s entry into the Canadian grocery delivery space.

Why did Uber decide to get into grocery delivery?
When Uber started out it was really about trying to help move people at the tap of a button. Press a button, a car comes, and then you get to where you want to go. Over the years, the ambitions have expanded. So you’ve seen things like Uber Eats being launched, which is really about helping connect people to food, at the tap of the button, from their favourite restaurant. And this is just an extension of that—how can we help people connect to great food in their communities? But now it’s not just food from a restaurant, but also grocery stores.

What makes your grocery delivery offering unique?
We’re excited about bringing Uber and Cornershop together—Cornershop is a very established player in Latin America, and then you’ve got Uber, a great brand, a great network. I think for us what’s exciting is that we’ve really been able to make this kind of product offering seamless. So whether you’re opening up your normal Uber rides app or you’re opening up your Uber Eats app, you’re also able to connect to the grocery experience right from the get-go. So for us, it’s quite exciting to start to see Uber as somewhere that’s really a one-stop shop for local commerce needs.

How’s it going so far?
The growth globally has been pretty great. I think something else that I haven’t mentioned is, what we’re trying to do is make this local e-commerce as simple as possible for people. We recently launched a membership service on Uber Eats in Canada that we call Eats Pass—so with a simple membership fee, you get access to free delivery. So it just makes it easier. You don’t have to think, every single time, “How much delivery fee am I going to pay?” And we’ve been able to extend this benefit to grocery. So, if you’re a member of this service, when you make a grocery order over $40, you also don’t have to worry about that delivery fee. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible.

Have there been challenges since launching?
Overall it’s been a success. With all e-commerce businesses, I think the level of growth that everyone saw towards the beginning of the pandemic was unexpected. So there’s always challenges when it comes to the logistics, etc., and just making sure that you’re able to fulfill orders, but nothing too overwhelming.

Do you think grocery delivery is a consumer habit that will stay strong post-pandemic?
Oh, certainly. I think the pandemic may have accelerated some people’s desire to look for these kinds of options, but I think once people see the convenience, and the safety, they’ll be hooked. I will say from my personal experience... I mean, getting groceries delivered has been around for a while, but I, personally, was the biggest skeptic. I like going to the grocery store, I like browsing. But even I’ve been converted.

What’s next for Uber in the grocery space?
Stay tuned for an increasing selection of merchants. What’s exciting is that, of course, the focus here is grocery, but we’ve got things beyond grocery available as well. So you’ll see things like Pet Valu if you’re looking for pet food, you’ll see things like Rexall from a pharmacy perspective. So I would say stay tuned for greater categories and offerings beyond just that pure grocery experience.

What would you like to say to Canada’s grocers?
Everybody’s realizing that you have to be online. You have to be digital. In this day and age, and especially with the pandemic and folks being at home, you need to make sure you’ve got a presence and that you’re able to deliver via e-commerce. I think that’s just table stakes. And, of course, we’re excited to continue expanding our merchant base.

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer's November 2020 issue.

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