Gopher Grocery sees increase in customers

Closing of competitor helps local delivery company

by Betsy Graca

Despite the recent announcement that Simon Delivers will be closing, not every online delivery service is suffering.

Gopher Grocery made its first delivery in February of 2006. Today, the company has more than 3,000 registered users and has grown dramatically since Simon Delivers told customers they would no longer be accepting orders, Gopher Grocery President William Orkin said.

While only a small percentage of people buy their groceries online, the trend is changing, he said.

“The first category you’re going to buy online is a maybe a book, maybe then some digital music, maybe a plane ticket,” Orkin said. “Your Cheez Whiz and your green peppers are going to be further on the list as a category that you’re purchasing online.”

Orkin said campus is designed for residents to walk, not drive, which causes a demand for delivery service.

While graduate student David Schladt said he drives to Cub Foods or Target for his groceries, he’s not sure what he’d do if he were without a car, as many University students are.

Orkin said Gopher Grocery has seen its customer base grow by 134 percent over the past six months. Since the announcement of Simon Delivers’ closing, he said the demand has increased even more.

Even skyrocketing gas prices – one of the causes of Simon Delivers’ downfall – has not slowed the local delivery company substantially.

He said Gopher Grocery trucks get 19 miles to the gallon, while Simon Delivers had 13 miles to the gallon, softening the effects of gas prices for his company.

Although Gopher Grocery is weathering the gas price storm, some are just walking to get food.

Laurel Bauer , owner of House of Hanson , said she’s seeing more and more students stop in her market because of gas prices.

However, she said the on-campus market is mainly a destination for students stopping in for a snack or a missing ingredient.

It’s more convenient to stop by House of Hanson for a gallon of milk than to get in a car and drive to a supermarket, she said.

The nearest major grocery store to campus is Rainbow Foods at The Quarry shopping center.

Melissa Mahn , biochemistry junior, said she doesn’t mind going to The Quarry because it’s so close to campus. She said if she weren’t able to drive, she’d take the bus to get there.

Supply chain management junior Alex Tang said he sees corner markets more as drugstores for random items than as full-fledged grocery stores.

“You’re paying for the convenience,” he said.

While both Gopher Grocery and House of Hanson said they try to keep their prices equal to the major supermarkets, House of Hanson employee Mike Tenuta said it’s difficult to compare the local market to Rainbow or Cub because it can’t buy 3,000 frozen pizzas, for example.

Orkin also said some of his deliveries go to the dorms, where students might be looking for healthy alternatives to the dining services.