Getting groceries delivered fresh and fast

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Getting groceries delivered fresh and fast


As a lawyer, Kim Bo-ra doesn’t have time to shop for groceries. Her job at a high-power firm means she often gets home well past 10 p.m. when all the neighborhood’s stores have closed for the day.

So instead, she gets her groceries online.

“If I order a set of side dishes before 11 p.m., they arrive the next morning, and that becomes our breakfast,” said Kim, who is married. “I’ve become a regular customer of the service because the purchase can be made in small quantities and the quality is quite high.”

Companies that provide such a service offer a wide range of products from side dishes to fresh vegetables, targeted to double-income households like Kim’s and single-person households.

These virtual food markets include not only produce found at run-of-the-mill supermarkets but also precooked food one might order at a restaurant such as lasagna and octopus salad. In terms of quality and range of selection, they are comparable to products sold in brick-and-mortar stores.

Around 50 start-ups are currently operating in the online grocery delivery business. Major e-commerce sites have been offering similar services, too, but while they compete on low prices, the smaller companies are emphasizing the quality and rarity of their items. Some products on the virtual food markets are even more expensive than the price offered by the big e-commerce sites.

One start-up, Hello Nature, has a category of products called “Country’s Best.” The items here have unusual titles that include the name of the farmer, such as “Lee Kyu-su’s Premium Papaya Melon” and “Lee Young-jae’s Chewy Gooey Dried Figs.” Everything sold under “Country’s Best” comes with detailed information about the product’s size and what makes it stand out from others. There are photos of the produce’s outsides and insides, almost as if a user were shopping in person. To maintain quality, Hello Nature’s merchandisers actually visit farms to check their method of cultivation and processing.

In December, the start-up was acquired by SK Planet, a subsidiary of SK Telecom.

Companies running virtual food market platforms are putting effort into replicating the experience of buying groceries in person and making sure they meet high standards. On Satgat Market, when a user clicks on a product, a one-minute video pops up with farmers explaining the crop and images of them working in the field. Market Kurly sells organic groceries and eco-friendly products that pass 70 or so criteria set by the company.

The platforms are particularly popular among single-person and double-income households, and companies are catering to them by creating small-portion packages that are delivered on demand. In 2013, Baemin Fresh became the first e-commerce company to deliver products at dawn. Orders submitted late at night could be delivered to one’s doorsteps by early morning.

“We try to develop products that can reduce the preparation time for busy consumers,” said Lee Jin-ho, chief operating officer of Baemin Fresh. “Our focus is on side dishes and precooked food that people can eat immediately or after reheating.”

Baemin Fresh’s “Early Summer Healthy Meal Package,” for example, comes with four side dishes - grilled eel, seasoned seashells, stir-fried potatoes and pickled Japanese apricot - in proportions made for two people. The set costs 18,200 won ($16.12), comparable to a meal at a neighborhood restaurant, and is usually made that morning and delivered in an ice box.

Namul Today, which specializes in greens and seaweed, delivers three kinds of seasonal greens once a week for 9,900 won. The greens sent to customers are freshly cleaned and trimmed of dirty roots and withered parts.

The product lineup at Markey Kurly resembles the grocery corner at a high-end department store. Horse radish salad dressing from Japan, truffle honey from Italy and Canadian maple syrup are all part of the offerings. Product pages contain detailed recipes incorporating the ingredient - tapas made with truffle honey and quesadillas with hot sauce.

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