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Grocery Delivery Services May Rescue Thanksgiving Dinner


In case you missed it, it is the day before Thanksgiving, the moment when people planning a big meal realize they must have all the right ingredients on hand. And it's in that desperate annual struggle that NPR's Alina Selyukh found a story.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Sarah McCarthy was hosting friends from out of town for Thanksgiving. At the time, she was in law school in Connecticut very busy with schoolwork, and her friend had another friend...

SARAH MCCARTHY: Who owned some kind of super fancy free-range organic ranch and he has these turkeys. Do you want one?

SELYUKH: Of course, she wanted one. It arrived in a box frozen.

MCCARTHY: And it's enormous. It's, like, the size of, like, a small black bear.

SELYUKH: Did I mention the turkey was frozen and that Sarah was very busy? Yeah. It sat there and sat some more. The day before Thanksgiving, the turkey was still frozen on the inside, a microbe party on the outside.

MCCARTHY: And I'm freaking out because they're going to be there the next day, and I'm like, I've ruined the turkey. And I was a biochemist before law school, so I had these very visceral images of bacteria multiplying on the surface of this turkey.

SELYUKH: And so Sarah went shopping for a replacement turkey on the Internet, the service called Peapod. It was over a decade ago when having groceries delivered same day felt like rocket science. Now it's fairly common. The biggest app, Instacart, has more than 130,000 delivery workers. Eric Thompson (ph) from the Seattle area is one of them.

ERIC THOMPSON: Every year - every year - I will inevitably have an order that includes a whole turkey. They're usually gone by that time. My standard answer is, how do you feel about ham?

SELYUKH: He's worked Thanksgiving week for a few years now.

THOMPSON: There's queue jumping in the deli line, strategic positioning in the produce department. Somebody is going to shove past you to get the mushrooms. Sweet potatoes are going to fly at some point.

SELYUKH: Eric's most epic memory is two grown men screaming and smashing into each other's grocery carts over the last bag of Craisins. He says that's what happens when people who don't shop a lot are suddenly on a mission for extremely specific ingredients.

THOMPSON: That's the toughest thing about the season. You're compounding really busy stores with people who've been delegated to do the grocery shopping - husband, kid, Uncle Fred from Sarasota.

SELYUKH: He calls them amateur shoppers. Though, these days, stores are filled more and more with professionals like Eric filling orders from strangers.

THOMPSON: They come in two sizes, either, A, I need a holiday dinner or, B, gee, I forgot all these little things that make it a holiday dinner. It's really nice when people have forgotten something key to be able to make their day. I find that still surprisingly rewarding.

SELYUKH: Something key like - I don't know - a turkey.

MCCARTHY: I was so thankful that somebody brought me a turkey and that I wasn't going to have to divulge my literally dirty little secret of the nasty turkey.

SELYUKH: The moral of the story is it's always good to plan ahead, and if that fails, be generous to those who save the day. Alina Selyukh, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.