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Grocer gives Amazon plan food for thought

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ED Cantor is locked and loaded and packing meat.

The owner of Cantor's Grocery Company is wary of Amazon's just-announced plans to start shipping dry goods, such as coffee, cereal and baby food, to customers across Canada, but he's confident the books giant can't compete with his store's full-service offering.

Cantor's, which has been in business for 72 years, can also deliver steaks, dairy and produce.

Of course, it also offers in-store shopping for people who need to squeeze their grapefruits before adding them to their carts.

"People want everything. They want perishables. Who wants to buy just dry goods? You need milk, eggs and meat, too. You can't live just on dry goods," he said.

'Who wants to buy just dry goods? You need milk, eggs and meat, too. You can't live just on dry goods'

-- local grocer Ed Cantor, confident his store's fresh foods will more than compete with online retailer Amazon.com, which is jumping into the food business

"Everybody has groceries. Our meat is what drives our business."

Amazon's move means an already crowded grocery market is becoming standing-room only.

Amazon said most of the food items, including brands such as Campbell, Nestlé, Pepsi and Kellogg, can be shipped for free using its two-day subscription service Amazon Prime.

Amazon.ca country manager Alexandre Gagnon said the next step is to grow its lineup of products.

"No one customer is the same, so our focus is on providing a broad selection of brands so that customers can easily and instantly find and buy exactly what they are looking for," he said.

But Cantor wonders how easily customers will be able to call a multinational company to discuss their Honey Nut Cheerios order.

He said customers appreciate they can pick up the phone and call him if they have any questions or problems.

"People like having someone they can talk to. How are you going to talk to Amazon? Are you going to talk to them by computer?" he said.

Husni Zeid, co-owner of Foodfare, which has five locations in town, also believes his fresh produce, meat and other perishable items -- all of which are available via delivery and in-store -- will be a deal breaker for customers considering using Amazon.

"I find it hard to believe a customer on the street is going to call Amazon and say, 'give me a case of soup' and then walk over to the local store and get steak and milk. And that soup could be the same price (as at Amazon)," he said.

Zeid said he can't see Amazon's prices being cheaper than Walmart's because there are costs involved in packing, shipping and delivering dry goods.

Then there's the matter of what do customers do when they receive a shipment that's damaged or not what they ordered and it needs to be returned?

"How long will that shipping take? There are still a lot of questions that have to be answered," he said.

It's only a matter of time before the company expands beyond dry goods. Amazon recently began testing a broader selection of groceries in the U.S. under the label AmazonFresh, which ships staples such as milk, fruits and vegetables to consumers in the Los Angeles and the Seattle areas.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 1, 2013 B8

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