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June 12, 2008

Pitt employees check out of the grocery line to shop at work

Grocery shopping may not be the most exciting chore, but a person’s got to eat. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average grocery shopping trip takes 45 minutes for women, 37 minutes for men.

Some Pitt employees are finding ways to get their shopping done in less time and with less gasoline. They pick up their groceries at work.

Two companies, Isidore Foods and, make weekly deliveries to the Pitt campus and both are developing loyal followings among those who’d rather shop online, then be alerted by email when it’s time to collect their groceries from an on-campus pickup point.

“People are very appreciative of getting things delivered,” said Isidore Foods founder David Eson. Not only can customers save time and avoid traffic, one truck delivery to Pitt can pre-empt many grocery trips. “I can serve 200 people a week on one run, as opposed to having 200 cars on the road.”

Isidore Foods, which has expanded last year’s Farm to Pitt produce subscription program to include meat, dairy, bread and pantry items, delivers on Thursdays to several Pitt buildings in Oakland as well as the Thomas Boulevard facility. Isidore Foods also offers pickup points in season at several farmers’ markets, including the Oakland Farmers’ Market.

While last year’s offerings were limited to 10-week subscriptions in which customers received weekly boxes of seasonal fresh produce from local farmers, this year more Pitt employees are using the service, in part because there are many more options.

Produce subscriptions have been extended to 22 weeks this season and a 10-week fruit subscription will begin in July, Eson said. Changes include a new option for payment by the week for large subscriptions instead of as a lump sum, the ability for vacationers to opt out of a delivery on a particular week and the addition of items that can be ordered either on a one-time or subscription basis.

Another service that delivers to campus is In partnership with local YMCAs, the online grocer delivers to the Collegiate YMCA’s office in Bellefield Hall each Friday.

A loyal core of about a dozen buyers use the service regularly, said Collegiate YMCA executive director Lila de Klaver, who noted summer orders tend to be lighter than during the academic year. In addition to produce, GoodApples also offers meat, seafood, bread, cheese and pasta.

Both companies include local and organic choices among their grocery offerings.

Pitt employees cite a variety of reasons — convenience and quality among them — as their reasons for participating.

Michelle Talbert-Horsey of Career Services said she initially tried GoodApples as part of an effort to adopt a more healthful diet. She’s been pleased with the freshness and the value of the produce she’s purchased online and enjoys the fact that online shopping keeps her from being distracted by items that might tempt her in the aisles of a regular grocery store. Talbert-Horsey said she is able to avoid a grocery store trip altogether some weeks if produce is all she needs. “If I’m not planning to go to the store, it’s just easier to pick them up and take them home,” she said.

Janet Asbury of the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid said she typically buys her produce from GoodApples, leaving her adult daughter, who is the primary shopper in her household, to the other shopping chores.

Asbury said she finds some of the products expensive, but watches for sale items and sometimes indulges in treats such as a specialty coffee or fresh pasta to prepare on a Friday night. “It’s a nice convenience,” she said. “They do offer everything.”

Asbury commutes by bus, so she is careful not to buy more than she can carry. On occasion, she’s had to leave some of her order in her office and collect it later.

Asbury said she’s generally been pleased with the quality of the items she’s ordered. On the rare occasions when she was not, she said the company made good on its no-questions-asked guarantee and credited her double her money back. “That’s good when you’re not picking out your own stuff,” she said.

Joe Germanoski of Computing Services and Systems Development passes along the weekly GoodApples emails he receives to his wife, who is his family’s primary shopper. Discounts make some items extra good bargains, he said. One of his favorites is a salad box that costs about $7 and includes lettuce, romaine, tomatoes, red and yellow peppers and other vegetables — a good deal compared to grocery store prices, he said.

Germanoski also frequents the Oakland Farmers’ Market in summer, but likes the year-round availability of ordering through GoodApples.

He incorporates the grocery pickup in Bellefield Hall into his lunch-hour walk.

A vanpool rider, he notes that the items are delivered in boxes and bags with sturdy handles that are more than substantial enough to survive his commute home to Ellwood City.

Some Pitt customers’ groceries don’t even make it home — by design. While Donna Close of Student Affairs buys produce for her family through GoodApples, she also gets a bowl of fruit each week to keep at her desk for healthful daytime snacking.

Among the fans of Isidore Foods is Rachell Youngman of the University Library System. While she is not a farm produce subscriber, she has purchased some of the a la carte items Isidore made available this year.

“I am very discouraged about the quality you get in the grocery stores,” she said. Youngman receives Schwan’s frozen food deliveries at home and said she tried Isidore Foods’ delivery service as a way to get fresher fruits and vegetables. “I really dislike food shopping,” she said. “I am always too tempted with sales and junk foods.”

Youngman, who is single, said she’d like to see more a la carte meat choices suitable for a person who doesn’t use large quantities of meat. “It would be one less thing to have to run to the store for if they could offer it,” she said.

Jen Goeckeler, manager of biological sciences professor Jeffrey Brodsky’s research lab, is another regular Isidore Foods customer.

One of the things she likes is the company’s connection to local producers — the company deals with some 30 nearby farms and gets all its perishable items from within 170 miles of Pittsburgh, Eson of Isidore Foods said.

Goeckeler said, “As biologists, we should be especially concerned with protecting our environment, plus this is a little something we can do to support small, local farmers and businesses.”

The amount of interest in Goeckeler’s building led Eson to establish a drop-off point in Crawford Hall. Goeckeler said her co-workers often sample each other’s purchases and share recipes that include items Isidore Foods offers.

Goeckeler said she even has begun baking her own bread after purchasing some organic whole-wheat flour. She receives the vegetable boxes, but also has tried pantry items, eggs, cheeses and breads and has found them all to be “wonderful,” she said. Her lone disappointment was in some strawberry-rhubarb jam that she found too bland.

Goeckeler said Eson has been receptive to requests. “We’ve asked for many products that were not originally available, or for certain items to be available separately instead of just as a component of a large pack,” she said, adding that Eson does his best to accommodate them.

“At first I thought that I would just buy a few things here and there and still use the conventional grocery store for most of my food purchases, but I’ve found myself trying to plan my meals incorporating more things that I can get from Isidore instead, and using the grocery store as only a supplement to that.”

Information on Isidore Foods is available at Information on GoodApples is available at using the organization code PITT.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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