If you’re looking for telltale signs of progress, walking into a modern-day supermarket would convince you we’re in the middle ages. 

For one, it probably took you half an hour to get there and find parking. You then enter an environment that was meticulously designed to thwart even the most strong-willed amongst us from buying good-tasting and healthy food in a timely way. 

Aisles are organized not for convenience, but to ensure you trek around the whole store. Nutritionally dubious but attractively packaged food magically appears at your four-year old’s eye level.  Labels screaming “low fat” or “natural” are as ubiquitous as they are bereft of meaning. 

Photos of local farmers belie the reality that the vast, vast majority of the food comes from far, far away. Pastoral scenes splayed on everything from butter to potato chips fly in the face of the mega- industries that now produce most of our food. And good luck understanding most of the ingredients without a standby nutritionist. 

People are getting tired of this. And alongside independent grocery stores and coops that have been fighting the good fight in this era of consolidation, there is a burgeoning alternative on the horizon that could change how the grocery game is played. 

Online stores specializing in sustainable and local produce and groceries are popping up all over. They are leapfrogging the reigning gatekeepers – huge grocery chains and consumer packaged goods companies – to connect makers and eaters together. They do five things that a typical grocery store does not:

1. Save Your Soul: Many regional online grocers are helping to re-build local food economies by buying from smaller farmers. This means more jobs. Also, because delivery routes are much more efficient than dozens of customers driving themselves to the store, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 25% to 75% (see University of Washing study here and Fresh City here). 

2. Less Time Shopping: Perhaps the most obvious benefit of shopping online is time savings. Because of how our cities have been built in the postwar era and the large size of most supermarkets, the average person now spends over 80 hours a year grocery shopping. That’s two entire work weeks!

3. Lift the Veil: Shopping online enables a transparency not possible in store. Many stores have profiles of the makers online as well as detailed ingredients and nutritional information. Most stores also offer dietary filters – one click and all you see are gluten-free products.

4. Great Value: Shopping online is increasingly cost competitive as many stores are hitting a critical mass. Online grocery stores can hold inventory in one central location that serves a large area. They also don’t have to pay for stores and parking lots in expensive urban areas.

5. Reign in the Impulse Buy: Studies (see one here) have demonstrated that we make better food decisions when we have to plan ahead. You’re much less likely to buy that chocolate bar or pop when it’s not screaming at you at the check-out aisle.