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Online retailers like Amazon have reshaped how we shop for everything and customers are reevaluating the need to visit brick-and-mortar stores for groceries, even as the number of coronavirus cases decreases. In fact, Google Trends shows a peak in searches in the spring of 2020 for “online grocery shopping”—and even in 2021, those keywords are still more popular than before the pandemic. But despite online grocery shopping’s popularity, many of the websites piggyback off of existing retailers, with few options for connecting with local producers.
Pinemelon, a new online grocery store launching on April 12 in the Denver metro area, wants to change that by cutting out middlemen; partnering with local vendors; and making it easier to shop online for affordable, organic food.
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For Alexey Lee, the founder and CEO of Pinemelon, the service was born from a personal need. “[My wife and I] really experienced the need for such a service when we became parents,” Lee says. “We have two kids and we understand how valuable it is to have spare time, and not go shopping weekly [at] a brick-and-mortar.”
Lee, a native of Almaty, Kazakhstan, has a background in e-commerce and startups. In 2013, he acquired online grocery store Arbuz, which took off in the city of Almaty in 2018. Like Denver, Almaty is a city of about two million people nestled against the mountains, where the community appreciates the balance of nature and city life and natural foods, Lee says. The mid-size populations are also a good fit for startups. During the pandemic, Lee felt the time was right to expand into the United States by launching Pinemelon—Arbuz’s sister company. That’s why after starting to develop Pinemelon last June, Lee and his family moved to Denver in fall 2021.
While businesses like Instacart rely on existing retailers like King Soopers or Natural Grocers to source products and often tack on additional fees or markups, Pinemelon is more mindful of sustainability. The warehouse, which doesn’t have displays or cases, helps cut back on food waste; and the delivery routes are optimized by addresses and delivery zones to increase efficiency. Sourcing locally also means eliminating or reducing packaging where possible, another environmentally friendly practice. But the company’s main focus is providing a convenient means of shopping for middle- to middle-upper-class families with kids in search of local, organic food.
“Our whole idea is to build a platform which connects local customers and local producers and farmers, and we are trying to build really meaningful relationships with them, rather than just sell it and try to earn money on that,” Lee says.
Many of Pinemelon’s partners—about 10 percent at launch—are located within a 100-mile radius, Lee says, with plans to double that number when summer brings more seasonal produce. Lee’s goal is to target 20 to 25 percent Colorado-sourced goods from familiar vendors like Pablo’s Coffee, Celestial Seasonings, and even Bonfire Burritos. And most of those products will be natural or organic.
“We’re planning to carry about 80 percent organic, natural, better-for-you brands,” says Sarah Young, director of marketing at Pinemelon. “Most of us want to make better food choices, and we want to make it easier for our customers to do that. But we realize that maybe Goldfish are a staple in your household, or someone really loves Diet Coke or you grew up using Tide so that’s the laundry detergent you use. We’re catering to the 80/20 shopper.”
Pinemelon’s headquarters and warehouse off of I-25 and 58th Avenue will house inventory like seasonal produce from Osage Gardens, burger patties from Frontiere Natural Meats, and sweets from Dar Chocolate, Lee says. For delivery, the company isn’t relying on gig workers, but rather hiring full-time drivers and fulfillment specialists trained in picking quality products.
The delivery radius stretches to Lafayette, Central Park, Golden, and as far south as Hampden Ave and I-25—anywhere within about a 30-minute drive of Pinemelon headquarters. Customers choose the groceries and a delivery time in a two-hour window the same or next day; and products are dropped off in either paper bags or a plastic tote that can be reused on subsequent orders.
Lee says the prices will probably be more expensive than King Soopers, but more affordable than Whole Foods, which supplies Denverites with a bevy of organic food. But those looking to save can sign up for a Pinemelon membership, which provides free delivery on all orders. Membership options start at $9.95 a month, with options for $49 bi-annual or $99 annual pricing. Without the membership, Pinemelon offers free shipping on orders over $35, otherwise it’s a flat fee of $4.95.
“We believe that every good city deserves a new generation of online grocery,” Lee says.
Pinemelon starts accepting orders on April 12.