News & Features

Gig-Economy Groceries

Online grocery-delivery service Instacart makes its debut in the Flathead

Few errands are more personal than picking out and buying groceries.

It’s a task that requires time and energy, a mindset that plans for the future while maintaining your personal tastes and fulfilling specific cravings. It’s also an errand that many rush through, either at the end of the day after work or on the weekends when others are also stocking their fridges and shelves.

Ben Piersall, a former Flathead High School graduate now living and working in the Bay Area, understands the personal nature of feeding ourselves. It’s what drew him to Instacart, an app that allows a buyer to pick out their groceries from their favorite local store and have them delivered, all without stepping foot inside.

Launched in 2014, Instacart now serves the Flathead Valley in Kalispell and Whitefish, beginning its services on Sept. 6. Now, valley residents can earn extra cash by being someone’s personal grocery shopper, while others can avoid the rigmarole of wrangling a shopping cart.

“The magic has been that you feel like you’re shopping from your personal store,” Piersall said. “The products are actually delivered from there.”

Customers can pay $5.99 per delivery, or sign up for a year of deliveries for $149. Local participating stores include Costco, Natural Grocers, Petco, Albertsons, and Smith’s.

Piersall works in business development for Instacart, meaning he builds the relationships with certain grocery stores and facilitates their use of the app. But his journey to Instacart and San Francisco started in the Flathead Valley, where he grew up.

After graduating from Flathead High in 2008, Piersall knew he wanted to explore the country. This would mean leaving his beloved Montana, but it also meant gaining new experiences. He went to the University of Pennsylvania to study economics, but opted to head back to the West Coast after graduation instead of taking a job in New York City’s financial district.

He worked with software giant Intuit before starting his own company, which went belly up after about a year and a half. Afterward, he transitioned to working at investment firm Sequoia Capital. Working there for two years was basically “like earning a Master’s degree,” he said, but Piersall realized he didn’t want to be just an investor, he wanted to be out in the field.

Sequoia invested in Instacart, and the idea and passion behind it caught his attention, and Piersall started working for the startup. A bit later, he came home to the Flathead for Fourth of July and saw local grocery stores initiating programs wherein people can choose their groceries online and pick them up at the store.

The valley was coming into its own in the current so-called gig economy, with the emergence of Uber and Airbnb, and Instacart fits that same model.

“It’s a great means on the employment side for folks who maybe already have part-time work but are looking for some flexible additional work,” Piersall said.
Most of the business’ shoppers are retired folks, stay-at-home parents, and college students, Piersall said.

“There’s a strong personal connection they find in the service,” he said.
The shoppers get the grocery list and go into the stores to pick out the items just as they would for themselves, Piersall said, and then they store them in food-safety bags and drive them over to the buyer.

The company doesn’t have its own groceries or cars, he said, but instead works as a partner with grocery stores looking to compete with Amazon’s delivery service while maintaining their individuality.

Instacart is also a potential window to accessibility for those who may not be able to leave their homes and drive to the store to collect their own groceries, due to disability or age or any other reason. It also offers a click-and-collect option for those who want to pick out their groceries ahead of visiting the store and then pick them up themselves.

It’s all a service Piersall said he’s thrilled to be able to bring to his home valley.

“It’s very personal,” he said.

For more information on Instacart, visit www.instacart.com.

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