MINNEAPOLIS — When Jennifer Rock made a recent Schwan’s order, she was surprised to see one particular out-of-stock item.

“I know here in Minneapolis, when I ordered my Schwan’s last week, I saw that broccoli was temporarily out of stock, which made me laugh because I don’t know about you but comfort food for me is like pies and ice cream treats,” says Rock, director of corporate communications at Schwan’s Home Delivery. “So I was actually pretty heartened to see that there are people who are still cooking really good meals, apparently really healthy stuff, when I’d just like to eat ice cream right now.”

As people across the world adhere to distancing guidelines or are sheltering in place due to COVID-19 prevention efforts, many are finding food delivery services important or vital to their ability to stay home and stay healthy.

Coresight Research’s U.S. Online Grocery Survey 2019 showed that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of U.S. shoppers buying groceries online, rather than shopping in stores, already was growing, with 36.8% of U.S. consumers reporting buying groceries online, compared to 23.1% in the company’s 2018 survey. Amazon was the top spot for online shoppers, with 62.5% of people who bought groceries online having them delivered from Amazon. Walmart, Target and other large food retailers also saw their online purchases increase, though some retailers allow shoppers to purchase groceries online but pick them up in person.

While there are many newcomers to the food delivery game, Minnesota-based Schwan’s has been at it for 68 years, Rock says. And while most delivery options are only available in more rural areas, Schwan's refrigerated trucks have been a familiar site in rural areas for decades. The company's approximately 4,000 employees deliver in 48 states in their yellow trucks, and Rock says they "deliver everywhere" with mail order and UPS.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Schwan’s started as a Minnesota dairy and began as a delivery service when Marvin Schwan, then 23, used a van to deliver his family’s ice cream to rural farmers in western Minnesota. The company has grown to sell frozen foods on its traditional delivery trucks, as well as in grocery stores and in the food-service industry.

Like other food delivery options, people are finding Schwan’s services more valuable right now.

“Obviously in this time of the pandemic, with so many people sheltering at home and so many people looking to cook at home now for themselves and their families, we’ve seen an increase in demand for our services, and certainly people are looking to find more ways to get that no-contact delivery and to have those products delivered straight to their doorstep,” she says.

Rock says the safety and health of customers and employees has been paramount for Schwan’s, and they’ve made changes to how they operate. For instance, they’re staggering shifts to keep fewer people in the “depots” where they load their trucks, keeping people at least 6 feet apart and upping their cleaning and sanitizing. In addition, they’ve adopted safety guidelines required in Michigan, which require checking every employee daily for symptoms and doing daily safety checks, throughout their system to try to “be ahead of the game in safety guidelines,” Rock says.

On the delivery side, the pandemic means no handshakes with customers, no entering customers’ homes, no passing catalogs to customers and no accepting cash and coins. Most customers, Rock says, are preferring to preorder their food online or on the Schwan’s app. Delivery drivers leave the prepaid orders on the steps.

“For our delivery drivers who are out and about and still giving customers the best service that we can, that looks a lot different than it used to,” she says.

Rock says Schwan’s has many suppliers, both farmers and food service providers, throughout the country and a few overseas. As demand for some items has shifted or increased, the company has tried to find suppliers to keep filling customer needs.

“If we can put a hot meal on the table and fill your freezer with some good feed and some ice cream treats and some broccoli or whatever your family is craving right now, we’re going to do our best to keep doing that,” she says.