If you need office supplies, you probably wouldn’t think twice about placing an order online and awaiting their arrival on your doorstep. Grocery chains are betting you will soon feel the same way about purchasing asparagus and peaches.

Grocers have been trying to shift grocery buying habits — especially for perishable food and beverage items — for years, but are struggling to make the economics work. They rely on staff in stores to fill customer orders manually for pickup or delivery. The process is labor-intensive, expensive and virtually unsustainable, with consumers balking at paying the true cost of the services rendered.

But technological advances have the potential to bring down those costs. Consumers, meanwhile, lead busier lives than ever and are increasingly willing to pay for the convenience that online shopping and delivery offer. 

In other words, the right time is now. Grocery chains and food and beverage manufacturers are challenged to scrutinize their current food supply chains to wring out costs and stay competitive. 

For many, that means moving the online shopping experience from retail stores to warehouses outfitted with automated storage and retrieval systems, using robots to navigate shelves and efficiently fill orders 24 hours a day. Because these automated systems can navigate higher shelving and require narrower aisles than traditional warehouses, owners can pack more sellable product in smaller spaces, maximizing profitability for consumer products. 

To overcome the objections of picky shoppers, inspection and sorting technologies can check for color, size and blemishes in fresh produce, making sure consumers receive the produce quality they’d demand if they selected the items themselves.

Grocers looking for faster, cheaper ways to make home deliveries can learn from Amazon, which has enlisted Uber-like drivers to make same-day deliveries in major metropolitan areas. Those concerned about the potential for food spoilage in transit may find that adding warehouses in strategic locations is a more economical alternative than operating a large fleet of refrigerated trucks for food and beverage delivery.

There is a technological solution, in fact, for virtually every link in the food supply chain. Now the race is on to find and implement them.