Grocery delivery is expanding in Pittsburgh — and that means you can get fresh food without ever leaving your couch

One service says it’ll deliver your groceries within 45 minutes flat, so we put it to the test.

See ya never, grocery cart.

See ya never, grocery cart.

Flickr / Edward J. Welker
Rossilynne Culgan

If you dread the grocery store — with its parking lot traffic, the slow weaving through aisles, long check-out lines, self-checkout scanners that inevitably break — we’ve got some good news for you.

First, you’re not alone, as grocery pick-up and delivery services are booming in Pittsburgh.

Second, those same services are expected to grow this year, giving you more options for how to get your groceries.

Long-established Pittsburgh company Giant Eagle is looking to expand its home delivery service this year to a vast majority of the Pittsburgh market, after a pilot program in the South Hills, Giant Eagle spokesman Dan Donovan said.

“The folks who tried the service, we had a high percentage of those folks using it again,” he said. “What we learned from that is that there is a customer base for us that is really going to be looking forward to a home delivery option.”

The South Hills pilot program, launched earlier this year reaches the Mt. Lebanon, Castle Shannon, Bethel Park, Baldwin-Whitehall and Upper St. Clair areas (15102, 15228, 15234, 15241 and 15243). It costs $12.95 for delivery (the first order is free), and the order must be placed by 11:59 p.m. for next-day delivery. You can also place your order up to seven days in advance and schedule it to deliver at a certain time.

The challenge, Donovan said, is customer trust: Is the food kept hot or cold appropriately? Is the delivery driver friendly? Giant Eagle uses a third-party to deliver the groceries, but the company underwent Giant Eagle training.

There’s also a relatively new player in the grocery delivery business, a local company called Zing Basket, which promises grocery delivery in 45 minutes or less, and has an eye on future expansion. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and you can schedule a delivery to fit your schedule.

“You click, we pick and deliver,” Zing Basket General Manager Amanda Faulk said. “It’s at your door in 45 mins or less. It’s not next-day, it’s not three hours from now.”

Zing Basket promises to deliver groceries (including beer) within 45 minutes.
Courtesy of Zing Basket

The one-year old company delivers to 13 ZIP codes in the Pittsburgh area: 15106, 15205, 15204, 15142, 15243, 15220, 15228, 15216, 15226, 15211, 15222, 15282, 15213 and 15260.

You can order everything from shampoo to fresh fruit to milk, and it all comes from the company’s warehouse near Green Tree.

The produce is sourced from Consumer’s Produce in the Strip District, the meat comes from Weiss, the milk is Schneider’s, and the bread comes from Schwebel’s, Cellone’s and Mediterra.

“Sunday is the busiest shopping day in the grocery world, and a lot of people nowadays they say, ‘Gotta get to the store before the Steeler game.’ Well no, you don’t have to you, you can sit on the couch and order the groceries and have it delivered to you,” Faulk said. “You don’t have to run to the grocery store on Sunday before packing the lunches for Monday. It’s on-demand grocery shopping.”

The service offers free delivery for orders over $50; $3 delivery for orders $20-50; and $5 delivery for orders under $20.

But even if you order $600 of food, Zing Basket promises delivery in 45 minutes or less from delivery drivers who are Zing Basket employees. The company is owned by Ablak Holdings, which also owns Vocelli’s pizza, so they’ve got delivery logistics figured out.

Again, the hurdle here is trust. It’s also getting people used to ordering their groceries online. But once people are in, they’re hooked, she said, with repeat customers coming in at “an amazing rate.”

They’re talking about expanding, too, Faulk said, with a long-term goal of franchising.

In addition to its new delivery service, Giant Eagle has for five years offered a Curbside Express program, where you order your groceries online and then pick them up at the store without having to go inside. It costs $4.95 and is available at about 13 stores in the Pittsburgh region — a number that’s recently jumped.

“Up until really this past spring, we totaled just seven, but based on all the trends of customers looking for more convenience. … We saw a need to expand,” Donovan said. “Between the spring and now, we’ve doubled that.”

Even if there’s not a pick-up location at your closest Giant Eagle store, the goal is that the curbside service is available at a supermarket close enough to you that it’s accessible, he said.

“It’s gone really well,” Donovan said. “We continue to see year over year growth with it.”

Do the services work?

Giant Eagle home delivery and Curbside Express

I can’t offer a first-person account of the Giant Eagle home delivery service, as I don’t live in the South Hills.

I have, however, used Curbside Express many times and appreciate the vast online selection. I also appreciate being able to leave notes for the shopper, like ‘bananas a little green please.’ But for me, it still means having to get in the car and fight the traffic nightmare that is Centre Avenue.

Zing Basket

Skeptical of this 45 minute claim, I put it to the test on Sunday night with a $70 order. I was shocked when I heard my door’s call box ring within 30 minutes of placing the order. The delivery driver carried the food to my unit and everything was packaged neatly and the produce kept cold. There was even a thank-you gift for my first order. My only complaint: It’s great for basics, but I couldn’t order some of the specialty items I wanted, like kale and farro.

A thank-you gift for first time Zing Basket shoppers.

A thank-you gift for first time Zing Basket shoppers.

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Who’s the target customer?

You might guess Millenials, and, yes, they’re a part of the story. (Cue the ‘Millenials are killing supermarkets’ thinkpiece now. Ugh.)

But these services are also helpful to parents who don’t have to unload four kids from the car. They’re helpful to older people, as well, and Giant Eagle sees people placing order on behalf of elderly relatives. It’s also helpful for budget-conscious shoppers, Donovan said, as the bill gets tallied as you go.

For Zing Basket, the average customer age is 28 to 36, but the age ranges vary. Many deliveries come from Downtown and Oakland areas, often with parents ordering food for their college students.

“It’s very convenient. It’s very time efficient. It’s what the Millennials are looking for,” Faulk said. “We cater to all age groups. We deliver to college students all the way to we go to nursing homes.”

What’s the future of the supermarket?

To Faulk, grocery delivery is the future.

“Grocery delivery is obviously in the future where everybody is going to be at,” she said. “It’s the convenience. Why spend three hours, making a grocery shopping list, going grocery shopping and having to put it all away?”

And grocery delivery might just make you happier.

In Donovan’s crystal ball, brick-and-mortar stores aren’t going away.

“There’s a strong benefit, we think a strong benefit, in the grocery business to people wanting to see, to touch, to smell the stuff they’re going to take home to their families,” he said. “We think a strong portion of our customer base is going to continue to want that experience.”

That means investing in the stores through remodeling and engaging with customers.

But, he recognizes, it’s also important for the 90-year-old company to “continue to be relevant and meaningful,” as customers might want an in-store experience one day and need a delivery service another day.

“We think whether they’re shopping with us or other place, Pittsburgh-area customers are going to continue to look for in-store shopping experience for groceries,” Donovan said. “That being said, you’re going to continue seeing growth in the different types of pick and and home delivery solutions.”