Fear of the coronavirus is driving a surge in grocery delivery services

Bailey Gallion
Florida Today
Allison Jenness, 37, of Naples, a personal shopper for Instacart, demonstrates for The News-Press what she typically does as part of her service. Instacart provides customers with personal shoppers for their groceries and is accessible through a mobile phone application.

As anxiety spreads about a looming COVID-19 pandemic, people across the country are avoiding public spaces and opting for food and grocery delivery services to do the risky work of shopping for them.

Apps such as Bite Squad, Instacart and DoorDash allow customers to input orders for area stores and restaurants. The services dispatch third-party couriers to pick up and deliver orders. Couriers, like Uber and Lyft drivers, are usually gig workers who take orders as independent contractors, working when they want. 

Demand for their services has surged with increased fear of catching the corona virus, which is in the United States but still in small numbers. By Wednesday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 149 US cases of the virus across 13 states. Florida has seen three cases reported in Hillsborough and Manatee counties.

But the uptick in delivery usage doesn't seem limited to localities with confirmed cases, and orders are up overall across the country.

More:Coronavirus in Florida: What Brevard County officials are doing to prepare

An Instacart spokesperson didn't provide statistics specific to Brevard County, but said Tuesday that growth in the app's usage had surged tenfold in the last 72 hours. In California, Washington and New York growth, growth had increased twentyfold in the same period.

Search terms for nonperishable goods and health items on the app have increased, too, with hand sanitizer, vitamins, powdered milk, face masks and canned goods seeing the greatest rise, the spokesperson said in an email.

Bite Squad, a delivery service that delivers food from a variety of Brevard restaurants, has seen a 17% increase week over week, a spokesperson said Wednesday.

None of the delivery companies that responded to FLORIDA TODAY would say whether increased demand or couriers' reluctance to work has lead to longer wait times.

A Bite Squad spokesperson didn't say whether couriers were struggling to keep up with demand, but said the company has "built-in mechanisms" to meet demand so "anyone ordering from Bite Squad can be assured of the best possible third-party delivery experience."

Asked what those built in measures were, the spokesman replied, "I don’t know the specifics, but it’s the system we use everyday."

An Instacart spokesperson said in a press release: "We remain fully operational across North America and our goal is to continue to serve our community safely while also ensuring our customers have access to uninterrupted delivery and pickup service for their groceries and household essentials.”

More:Brevard 'very likely' to experience coronavirus cases at some point, says health expert

The spokesperson did not reply to a follow-up email asking if customers were experiencing delays.

Some signs do show that some services are experiencing strains. According to Bloomberg, two Amazon delivery services are struggling to keep up with demand. Prime Now, a same-day delivery service providing basic household items, has posted a banner at the top of its website warning customers that some services may be delayed or unavailable.

Amazon Fresh is experiencing similar challenges, an Amazon employee told Bloomberg. Neither Amazon services are available in Brevard

Delivery services have taken measures to educate couriers about health and safety measures. Instacart has shared information with shoppers about health and safety precautions they can take based on guidelines from state and national authorities, a company spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for food delivery app DoorDash provided FLORIDA TODAY with a copy of a push notification it sent to its couriers asking them to wash hands regularly with soap and water or hand sanitizer, cover coughs and sneezes, stay home if sick and keep surfaces in their cars and bags clean.

Bailey Gallion is the business and development reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Gallion at or 321-242-3786.