September Slugs and Steins

Online Groceries: eCommerce, the pandemic & the future of work in retail food
Professor Chris Benner
Monday, September 14, 2020
6:30-8:00 p.m. 
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans have started ordering groceries online for the first time.  Levels of eCommerce for major grocery chains, including Walmart, Kroger's and AmazonFresh/Whole Foods have doubled or tripled since last year, building on double-digit growth from previous years. Meanwhile, the home-delivered meal kit industry has seen new life, and home delivery of prepared foods through platforms like DoorDash and UberEats is booming.  Many new customers, understandably nervous about the health implications of leaving their homes and sharing narrow grocery aisles with other shoppers, are exploring new ways of getting food to their homes. 

What are the implications of this trend for the people doing the work of fulfilling online orders and delivering food? What do we know about the growing number of jobs related to the growth of online food ordering and how is this affecting existing jobs in the grocery industry? What kinds of wages and working conditions exist in these jobs?  What does this mean for people in more traditional grocery store jobs? What does the pandemic mean for the longer-term trends in this type of work? Is the trend towards more online ordering of food likely to continue after the pandemic, or flatten out?   Based on a 3-year study of technological change and future of work in the grocery industry, this talk will address these changes.  Since many of the new positions are gig jobs through on-demand platforms like Instacart and DoorDash, this talk will also discuss the implications of the high profile political battle being waged in California over employee status of gig workers. 
Dr. Chris Benner is the Dorothy E. Everett Chair in Global Information and Social Entrepreneurship, and a Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  He currently directs the Everett Program for Technology and Social Change and the Santa Cruz Institute for Social Transformation.  His research examines the relationships between technological change, regional development, and the structure of economic opportunity, focusing on regional labor markets and the transformation of work and employment.  His most recent books is Equity, Growth and Community, which examines how inequality stunts economic growth and how bringing together equity and growth requires concerted local action.  He received his Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley.