A Dublin company that shops for, collects and delivers groceries from supermarkets to customers is pitching its technology to the Government as a way of preventing the spread of coronavirus.
Online grocery delivery service Buymie collects orders for customers shopping from Tesco and Lidl in the greater Dublin area, including Kildare and Wicklow, in an hour for a higher fee.
It has proposed offering its technology for a nationwide service with the support from retailers and Government aimed at stemming community transmission rates of Covid-19.
The company's chief executive and co-founder Devan Hughes has made a proposal to Government to set up an emergency "direct food-supply services fund", which would cover a portion of the cost of deliveries in an effort to reduce the number of people in supermarkets.
Mr Hughes said the company had met Government representatives about a public-private emergency effort between the grocery industry and Government that could quickly increase the number of deliveries in “high-risk population-dense areas”.
“A rapid response, nationwide ‘direct food-distribution initiative’, would curtail the community transmission curve across all major cities in a matter of weeks, by providing food supply to the most vulnerable members of our communities, the elderly and people who are self-isolating,” he said.
Mr Hughes said he was told Enterprise Ireland had suggested Buymie’s technology and services to Government last week and that the company’s proposal was formally submitted to Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys and her department.
The proposal was also discussed with senior officials from Enterprise Ireland and the Department of Business. No formal response has been received as of yet, he said.
The company's chairman and an investor in the business, Eamonn Quinn, son of the late Superquinn founder Feargal Quinn, said out-of-work taxi drivers affected by the virus outbreak could be trained up to become dedicated "shoppers" bringing groceries to self-isolating customers.
“We could scale the system very quickly if retailers wanted to get involved and if there was a whole lot of excess capacity with people out in cars,” he said.
The company had introduced “contactless delivery” where customers can request the shopper to leave bags on the doorstep before the order is collected by customers to maintain self-isolation.
The Government’s partial-lockdown last week sparked panic-buying in supermarkets that led to long queues at checkouts and empty shelves, putting pressure on grocers.
Mr Hughes said his company had seen a 300 per cent surge in demand for same-day delivery since the closure of schools and public offices.
He believes the company’s technology can also ease bulk-buying and panic-purchasing by setting limits on the size of orders and on certain products.
“We are seeing large grocers for the first time in my lifetime closing their doors in the middle of the day,” he said.
“We need to look at throttling demand at a reasonable level so we can look at getting the industry back on track.”
Contactless food deliveries
Separately, Deliveroo has rolled out a new ordering option in response to Covid-19 that allows for “contactless” delivery of food.
The new measure enables customers to receive food deliveries without fear of passing on the coronavirus to riders or of possibly catching it from them.
Deliveroo, said the new feature allows riders to leave deliveries outside customers’ homes and step back a sufficient distance while it is collected before an order is completed.
The services has about 1,000 riders in the Republic and a delivery catchment area encompassing 1.4 million people, It provides deliveries from more than 1,200 restaurants across Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway.
The company, which launched services in the Republic in 2015, last week announced a hardship fund for riders who contract the Covid-19 virus or who have been instructed to be in isolation to ensure they can avail of financial support.