July 16, 2020
Kathy Saunders has written the Taster’s Choice column in the Tampa Bay Times food section for more than 16 years. When the pandemic hit, the column was put on hiatus and Saunders began using grocery shopping and delivery services mostly because she has an immune compromised family member.
When she was writing the column, Saunders scoured the aisles of Tampa Bay area grocery stores in search of products for her tasters to test. On any given tasting day, the group might sample 13 orange juices, five cereals flavored with pumpkin spice, eight Ranch dressings and six brands of corn dogs.
It doesn’t make sense right now, she said, to suggest readers visit multiple stores while they are trying to limit their exposure to other people and avoid contracting COVID-19. Some brands and products remain in short supply even months into the health crisis.
Her experiences with Taster’s Choice have provided insights into how to be successful and mostly satisfied when someone else is doing the shopping. Her tips:
- Be Specific. Be as specific as you can about amounts when ordering online. Saunders once ordered two large Red Delicious apples for a recipe and ended up with two bags. She made her recipe, along with a couple of apple galettes, a few apple and Brie sandwiches, and then had enough to share with neighbors. Also, if you know where an item is in the store, add that to the comments on your order. Anyone who shops regularly knows that cheeses can be stocked in multiple places. If you know the Brie you want is with the upscale cheeses in the deli area, say that. An experienced shopper like Saunders knows that pine nuts are often stocked on the end cap of the spaghetti sauce aisle.
- Store brands. Through the years, store brands often came out on top in the tasting sessions. That was a surprise to tasters who had strong brand loyalties. While some grocery items are still in short supplies, Saunders said that store brands maybe more plentiful. Ask for them or specify that they are fine as a second choice.
- Cultivate a relationship. Strive to get the same shoppers regularly. You do this by using the same service routinely and giving a decent tip. A regular shopper is accustomed to your likes/dislikes. (After all, don’t we usually get the same things every time we shop?) Saunders said shoppers will text her if the store is out of something or even if they see something on the shelf that they know she likes but didn’t have on her list.
- Contact the company. Don’t hesitate to reach out if an order goes haywire. Saunders said they usually make it right by crediting your order. She also suggests that if it’s a goof you can live with (the Red Delicious apples), do it.
- Relax. Now is the time to be understanding. Keep in mind that shoppers-for-hire are risking their health to do your grocery shopping
Explore The Zest
Contributor: Janet Keeler
Producer: Dalia Colón & Robin Sussingham
Photo Credits: Kathy Saunders