Since the COVID-19 outbreak afflicted the U.S., fear of food shortages and interpersonal interactions have driven many people to order non-perishables and more through their screens.
These fears have led to skyrocketing sales for online grocery shopping platforms like InstaCart and Doordash. In Ithaca, one such platform is also providing Ithacans with food so they do not have to step into a single grocery store in the midst of a pandemic.
The online grocery shopping platform, Rosie, founded by Nick Nickitas MBA ’14, “provides a set of technology that turns any local store into a mini Amazon.com.” Retailers that partner with Rosie are now able to meet high demand from consumers who are unwilling to physically visit their stores and allow them to make orders through their mobile devices or desktops instead.
To mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 through increased use of its platform, Rosie is taking preventative measures such as reducing travel for its employees and following the best practices laid out by the Food Marketing Institute.
The service aims to solve a two-sided issue among both grocery stores and shoppers. “[Local grocery stores] want to be able to compete online, but they don’t have the technology or the people like Amazon or Walmart,” Nickitas said. “And people want to shop local, but they want it to be super convenient. They want to be able to order from their favorite local stores, but with the same convenience as when they order online from Amazon.”
After living in Manhattan for four years, where he frequently used online grocery service Fresh Direct, Nickitas found that there were no such services in Ithaca when he was an MBA student in 2012.
“I had wanted to be able to order online from local stores with the same convenience as ordering online from Amazon,” he said, but no similar online platforms were offered in Ithaca. He founded Rosie after realizing that he “could figure out a way to help make any place, any community, not just a big city, super, super convenient.”
While the company was initially founded to serve students, Nickitas said that Rosie has grown to target three main groups of shoppers — young families who find it inconvenient to balance errands with childcare, working professionals who struggle to find the time to grocery shop and impaired individuals for whom shopping in-store is difficult.
Early on, Nickitas and the Rosie team obtained funding after winning the Startup Labs Syracuse competition in 2013, through which they were awarded $150,000 in cash and $50,000 in in-kind marketing support.
Since its founding, Rosie has grown to a team of 25 people, serving hundreds of grocery stores in over 40 states and partnering with over 11 wholesalers.
Providing online shopping services to customers at this scale, however, means that Rosie has to compete against big names like Amazon and Walmart, and so do its retailers.
According to Nickitas, the retailers that partner with Rosie are “companies that hire in our community, they invest in our community, they donate to our community, they’re sourcing products from local vendors [and] local farmers.”
“[Local retailers] represent the fabric of our country. And we want to see these local retailers survive and thrive,” Nickitas said. Near Cornell, retailers that partner with Rosie include P&C-Ithaca, Trumansburg Shur-Save and Minier’s Express.
In order to help make these stores more competitive, Rosie focuses on offering diverse platforms, such as mobile apps and prime technology centered around user experiences. In addition to e-commerce, Rosie provides drivers for delivery and data analytic services to improve the retailer’s ability to serve customers.
In recent years, Rosie has found a new way to give back to the communities it closely works with. Through its partnership with New York retailer Dash’s Market, the platform has extended its services to families who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program .
In 2017, Dash’s Market, with Rosie as its online shopping platform, was selected to participate in a USDA pilot program that allows SNAP payments to be processed online. Prior to the purchasing program, SNAP payments were restricted to in-store processing, a constraint that excluded SNAP recipients from the convenience of online grocery shopping.
For students interested in entrepreneurship, Nickitas advised that “being an entrepreneur means finding innovative solutions to challenging problems,” to being “scrappy,” and uncovering useful resources.
“If you have entrepreneurial instincts, you should go for it, try it and find opportunities to leverage those skills,” Nickitas said.