Bike to Groceries

There is an old BTA (Bicycle Transportation Alliance) t-shirt I love: Work to Eat, Eat to Live, Live to Bike, Bike to Work. I live this mantra when I travel by bicycle.


Of late, I have been thinking about groceries and this past summer I created events with New Seasons Market (NSM) at the Concordia Store. Each NSM has a community person who interfaces with their neighbors. One example of their work is they host a kid's weekly story reading hour. And they were completely receptive to our hosting a bicycle encouragement event on their property. We hosted local neighborhood bicycle stores to present their bikes and electric bicycles, involved two pannier makers, had Portland Bureau of Transportation staff and their marvelous ambassadors help install the free famous white plastic bucket panniers on some 30 bicycles, sipped bicycle barista's terrific coffees, included advocate groups, and talked to many non-bicyclists and bicyclists in their parking lot/front store street.


My original concern was that 50% of our automobile trips are 3 miles or less and most people shop 3.5 times a month at grocery stores.  I wanted to encourage people to bicycle to stores; I wanted to show consumers that our low volume streets were perfect places to ride.  I wanted to entice people to get groceries by bicycle.


Getting Groceries has changed.

What I did not know is that the world has measurably changed with regard to getting groceries. This present world is now aligned with the simplicity of bicycling. This realignment includes 1) dramatic change in eating habits, 2) different generational methods of shopping & food preparation, 3) flat income from on-line sales & no boost in corporate profits, and 4) the upscale of economies.


Eating Habits

Restaurant sales outpaced grocery sales for the first time in 2016 according to the US Census Bureau. Restaurants take 15% of household budgets and grocery sales have slipped to 14%. Smart grocers have deli bars, takeout food, home-made entrees and sides that can compose the evening meals. Restaurants are 'beefing up' their profits with many appetizers, cocktails and desserts outnumbering entrees. 43% of the average household food budget is spent in restaurants. $3008 of annual $7023 dollar food budget is spent eating out.


Getting Food

Shopping habits have changed. Among "20 somethings" 25% buy food for meals eaten the same day.  37% of Millennials make grocery lists right before they go to the store. For other generations, the grocery list accumulates during the week.


When asked, How do you make your grocery list? 42% of Millennials let the recipes determine the list. 25% of shoppers choose recipes with fewer ingredients compared to only 12% of shoppers in 2007. Millennials now choose locally grown products 25% of the time compared to only 13% in 2007. These days, 27% choose minimally processed food compared to 19% of shoppers in 2007.


It is an Amazon vs. Wal-Mart world. The world is an economy of scale now. It has long passed the single grocery store several decades ago. Brad Tuttle of Fortune magazine in partnership with Time magazine wrote "Costco’s customer base skews older. A car is all but a necessity for the typical “stock up” visit to Costco, and compared to older generations, Millennials tend to not own cars and don’t seem to want to own cars. Most Costco stores are in suburban locations, while Millennials tend to prefer urban living,..."


Almost ~On Demand Online Food Orders

Online battles for patrons are sharply increasing: targets are young urbanites, reduction of the drudgery of physical shopping, mimicking On Demand paradigm of I want it now, and family democracy: make a shopping list for all in the household. Grocer's profit margins are declining, the overseas market demand has declined for our domestic products, the stronger dollar creates expensive overseas food markets.


On line Grocery & Delivery struggles: Positives are neutralized by Negatives.

On line patron pluses: 39% time savings; 36% gas savings; 27% total saving in driving maintenance; and 15% large item quantity delivery (fewer number of trips by consolidation of purchases). On line patron negatives: Grocer's final mile delivery is costly for trucks and employees; Volume sales needed to compensate the low profit in groceries; success is limited to sprawling cities: NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and Miami. These cities represent 52% of the on line sales. Only 1 to 2% of the 781 billion grocery market is from on line sales.


Amazon's Prime membership is tipping in at 80 million people (Costco reports 88 million but with small growth curve and next year is expected to be eclipsed by Amazon's 37% 2016 growth rate). The Prime membership represents a group who prefer online shopping instead of brick and mortar aisles of stuff. Amazon Fresh is being developed. And the Amazon Delivery system that now has the street outlet of Whole Foods may be the trigger creating a greater positive profit margin. Picking up your new computer with sushi, Raman and sake or popcorn and beer may perfectly fit the phrase economy of scale. The convenience is so attractive as it marries time savings, reduced car trips, physical shopping...three birds~one cart. This economy of scale is huge.


$Groceries =$Bicyclists=$Cars

I observed a local NSM store employee bulletin board state: 87% of our shoppers buy 10 items or less. My own survey from Bike to Groceries echoes this. Our survey asked how many bags do you buy when you shop? We had 50% of some 150 people say Two bags and 25% said One bag. That is carry-able on a bicycle!


It took me a while but I came to realize, we bicyclist shoppers now have a similar economic power as a shopper compared to an automobile shopper. Groceries $ spent = $ spent by Bicyclists = $ spent by Cars. We -cars and bicyclists- are shopping with the same bucket containing 10 items and equal paying wallet. Cars previously held economic sway for grocers as shoppers carted away 6 bags in the back of station wagons. This is history in urban areas. The new behavior profile fits our new social landscape. Grocers can economically join us helping us decrease the 3 mile car trip knowing that they will not be losing out on the station wagon shopper needing 10 bags of groceries. The car shopper is now part of the 87% group buying 10 items that will comfortably fit in two bicycle panniers.


 ODOT and PBOT make a difference

Spending 6 hours on a Saturday in a grocery parking lot, one sees the need to change the landscape. Urban streets define the perception of safety. Having a pedestrian/bicycle activated crosswalk stopping automobiles to allow passage directly on 33rd Avenue was mentioned multiple times by bicyclists and walkers to the store. This simple investment by the city, allows neighbors a real "avenue" to the store.


Parking, the Achilles' Heel

Bike parking is an afterthought and has not kept up with the new grocery bicyclist. Three types of parkers: bikes with huge Ortlieb-like 40 liter capacity panniers, cargo bikes in length of nearly 8 feet long and lastly, a 'normal bike' with a bike trailer. These three major type of bikes are frequently coming to shop. But the normal staple bicycle racks cannot handle many of these at the same time. The racks are built for bikes without panniers. This discourages biking to groceries.


A more subtle discouragement of cycling for groceries is putting bike racks on the side of the store. Placing them where lots of people pass into the store discourages bolt cutting thievery. Plain sight parking encourages more people to park to get groceries.


Parking volume at malls according to Donald Shoup was determined by the maximum number of parking spaces needed on the maximum shopping days. Now that malls are declining (310 of 1800 malls were at risk of closing in 2016) with a rate of 15% closing per the past five years, we can discard this attitude. But the irony of course that we want the maximum number of bicycle parking spaces too. Here the solution is complex and not solved. I think we need some kind of convertible parking space. First come first serve rules our stop signs & rules our parking spaces. What if we could have parking space size for cars that could on the fly be changed to accommodate a bicycle(s)?  There are interesting secure parking space devices that are in the center of the parking space which can be triggered to be a security location device. Some are controlled by Bluetooth.

This pop-up example from China could be modified to be a little vertically taller. This design sparks my imagination in creating a folding bike locking system. It also means increased vulnerability of a Cadillac SUV crushing bikes in 'their' parking space.


Economically, one must remember one car space could accommodate 8 bikes. Make them large enough for the big three bike types and you still get 3 bicycle for one car. This space provides 3 more shoppers buying 10 items each compared to 1 automobile driver buying 10 items.


Electric Next Wave

Having electric access to plug in the bicycle sounds extravagant, but Oregon Department of Energy had a public private partnership to install electric plug access for automobile when the percent of electric cars was not even 1 percent of the vehicles on the road.

There is a 'Range Anxiety' (or will I make it home? and one can peddle anyway!) among some folks, and having a public outlet (perhaps coded/keyed) will be one more invitation to people to bike from downtown and plugging in while at a grocery store stop before for that last mile home.


Missing Mileage

And lastly, we are missing a growth curve here. We are fixed on commuter tallies. We are concerned that commuter census is flat. But I 'feel' like I see so many more people bicycling each year in Portland. It makes me wonder what is the census of those commuting to groceries. What if we really are having more and more people ditch their car for a short trips to the store or restaurants? We need an academia, ODOT, and PBOT to accumulate this data. Commuter data may not be the best barometer of growth for bicyclists.


Bike to Groceries is a large endeavor of many more ideas than I ever thought. It needs more attention on so many levels. I think it knits our community more than driving for a grocery bag or two. I think its heart is getting humans active. Feeling the breeze in your face; seeing your neighbors; buying the freshest food; and ditching the automobile for 3 mile trips or less. And yet it still conveys the simple Work to Eat, Eat to Live, Live to Bike, Bike to Work.

     ~ AJZ


References and Graphs below