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Waterloo entrepreneurs launch local grocery delivery service

Grocera emphasizes locally sourced items

A Kitchener, Ont. company has joined the growing number of grocery delivery services, but with a largely overlooked selling proposition: An emphasis on fresh foods sourced from local farmers and independent grocers.

Patrick Valoppi and his partner Niket Soni launched Grocera in the country’s Kitchener-Waterloo tech hub in June. The two men met online, when Valoppi responded to Soni’s post on a community tech board asking for volunteers to help bring his idea for a grocery delivery service specializing in local food to life.

Soni had studied bio-medical science and nutrition at the University of Waterloo before becoming an inspector with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, while Valoppi studied business administration at Wilfred Laurier University.

Local food was also a big passion for Valoppi, whose mother’s family were Niagara-area fruit growers. He grew up in the agricultural area of Simcoe, Ont., where his family placed a premium on locally sourced food.

“I was really intrigued because not only is it in the tech start-up space, but it’s also something related to my passion for local food,” says Valoppi, noting that consumers are increasingly curious about where their food comes from.

“It’s great that you brought that chicken breast that’s the size of your face for $2, but you have no idea what kind of antibiotics and hormones is actually going it into it,” he says. “Consumers are becoming more educated about where their food is coming from, and who they’re supporting.”

The next-day delivery service emphasizes food sourced from local butchers, fruit growers, etc. Its launch partners include the Waterloo-based artisan bakery Grainharvest Breadhouse and a seasonal partner in Herrle’s Country Farm Market – a family-owned business located in St. Agatha, Ont. that has been operating since 1964. The company also delivers Ontario craft beer and wine.

Grocera is still very much in its infancy, currently fulfilling an average of 5-7 orders per day, with an average order size of about $80. Its most popular items are ground beef, chicken breast, white wine, Ontario fresh eggs and peppers.

It is a next-day service, with orders placed by 11:59 p.m. delivered between 4-9 p.m. the following day. The company charges a $10 flat fee for orders under $45, while orders over $45 are free.

Valoppi says that Grocera’s month-over-month revenue is increasing 39%, with its customers a mix of students, seniors and time-starved professionals. “It’s basically people who value either the convenience, the local food aspect, or both,” he says. About 29% of the company’s business comes from repeat customers.

The company plans to launch into Toronto in spring, with the two partners currently seeking out local suppliers willing to support its business model. The company is currently conducting market research to determine which area of Toronto it will launch in, but Valoppi says he is “really excited” about the prospects.

Grocera is part of a wave of grocery delivery services that have sprang up in Canada in the past 18 months, with the assumption that industry-leader Instacart will make its Canadian debut at some point next year.

“When we first started creating Grocera we recognized that we would not be able to compete with the Instacarts of the world…so we never planned to compete directly in terms of offering the entire grocery portfolio,” says Valoppi. “We wanted to go the other route: specializing in a niche market and doing it well.”

Two small business incubators are currently backing the company: Google for Entrepreneurs, as well as the University of Waterloo’s entrepreneurial program Velocity.

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