Foodies soon will be able to skip the crowded aisles at Central Market.
The high-end grocery store in west Fort Worth plans to launch online ordering and curbside pickup in mid-February, a company spokeswoman said.
Customers visiting the food paradise at Interstate 30 (4601 West Freeway) and Hulen Street may have already noticed that the east side of the grocery store is roped off as a construction zone, where it appears that at least 10 parking spots will be reserved for online order fulfillment.
A large, orange sign with the word “CURBSIDE” has been painted on the store’s eastern wall, and smaller signs in the parking lot point motorists in that direction. Also, a separate store entrance for employees serving the curbside customers has been built at the store’s southeast corner.
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Central Market is the latest of many grocers to dive deeper into the online grocery realm. Amazon Fresh began delivering groceries to North Texans’ homes more than a year ago. Kroger, Target, Walmart and many other retailers also have begun to offer either home delivery or curbside pickup in the past couple of years.
Texas grocery giant HEB owns Central Market, which also has locations in Southlake, Dallas, Plano, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. The supermarket specializes in gourmet, organic, imported and locally crafted food, beer and wine and otherwise hard-to-find culinary items.
The Fort Worth location will be the first of five Central Markets in the Metroplex to offer curbside pickup.
It’s premature to provide many details about how Central Market’s curbside service will work, including whether customers will be required to order groceries on a smart phone application or perhaps pay a fee for the service, spokeswoman Mabrie Jackson said in an email.
“We are not ready to talk about the offering just yet,” she said.
But it will be interesting to see how popular the service is among Central Market’s customers.
For shoppers inside the store, impulse buys are seemingly on every aisle. In the produce section, for example, hundreds of varieties of fruits and vegetables are available, and customers are encouraged to try samples.
The temptations are similar at the butcher shop. Sure, that Chilean sea bass is $30 a pound — but it looks sooooo good, so you put it in the cart along with the blood oranges, ethically sourced coffee and six-pack of Rapture Fusion brown ale.
Next thing you know, you have blown most of your paycheck on groceries.
Shopping online and picking up at curbside is a far different story. It virtually guarantees you will only buy the items on your list.
Even so, Central Market has always drawn high-end customers, and those are the same folks who have become completely comfortable in recent years ordering almost everything they need at home online — including toilet paper, diapers, shampoo and now, of course, food.
Competing with Amazon
The moves are the latest effort by big retailers to win back some of the grocery business taken by Amazon, which last year launched its AmazonFresh service in much of Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas. Amazon also bought Whole Foods for $13.7 billion last year to give its company a brick-and-mortar supermarket presence.
Kroger, Tom Thumb/Albertsons, CVS and many other retailers have also expanded curbside services, allowing customers to place orders online and pick up goods without leaving their car.
The recent increase in online shopping for groceries comes as retailers improve their ability to gather data about what customers want. By 2025, online grocery shopping could grow to $100 billion in annual sales nationwide, five times its current size, according to research by the Food Marketing Institute.
Not yet in Southlake
At Central Market’s Southlake location, employees said there are ongoing discussions about how to incorporate curbside pickup. The store at 1425 E. Southlake Blvd. is in a crowded strip center where retail stores are practically wall-to-wall, and parking can be a challenge.
“We’re working on it. We’re trying to find a way to get it done,” one employee told a shopper who inquired about curbside service while visiting the salad bar in the prepared foods section.
Central Market is also exploring curbside services at its stores in Dallas and Plano.
More than a third of online shoppers worldwide are expected to buy groceries at least once on their computer devices this year, according to an AlphaWise survey from Morgan Stanley Research.
Today's wave of online grocery shopping seems to have staying power, as customers realize it's a way to save at least an hour per week while also providing their loved ones with healthier meals, said Sarah Roche, a Texas Wesleyan University associate professor of marketing who closely tracks consumer trends.
“This is an outgrowth of our attitudes toward convenience, where we can cut ties with tasks and routine things and spend our time how we really want to," Roche said. "When people eat healthy, they can feel good about not skipping out on family duties. Going grocery shopping has always been connected to your family, and showing them you care about them.”
This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.