GrocerKey looking for Woodman’s partnership to boost online grocery offerings

Madison startup GrocerKey is helping shoppers get groceries from Woodman’s massive stores without going through its aisles.

And so far, says GrocerKey founder and CEO Jeremy Neren, shoppers enjoy it.

“People just really feel like it’s an easier way to shop, and they love the time savings,” Neren said.

With its online grocery delivery service, GrocerKey has joined an increasingly competitive industry, one that’s “really heating up,” as Neren described it. Just last week, for example, Google announced it will test same-day grocery deliveries, competing with existing services such as and Instacart.

But Neren is hoping to find a way into the industry by helping grocery stores grow their online brand, which is why shoppers visit rather than the GrocerKey website.

“We’re taking a different model,” Neren said. “We’re helping stores develop their brand. The two can work in tandem, and there’s just so much opportunity out there that there’s going to be several players in this market.”

The partnership started when Neren reached out to Clint Woodman, a vice president at the retailer, and “sold him” with GrocerKey’s pitch and product demonstration. Woodman’s then invested $500,000 into GrocerKey, making up much of the $710,000 GrocerKey has raised since Neren founded it in November 2014.

Right now, the service is only available in Woodman’s three Madison-area stores, with one of them serving as the hub for GrocerKey to fill its deliveries. But Neren says he expects to expand into Milwaukee next year and then to other Woodman’s locations.

He’s currently “on-boarding” three Madison-area grocery stores, but his focus isn’t just local. Instead, Neren said he’s meeting with groceries stores across the country, talking to “solo operators all the way up to thousand-store chains.”

Those conversations got much easier after the partnership with Woodman’s, he added.

“They’ve been in the grocery industry for 100 years, so people know they can be trusted and when they decide to use a solution, that clearly they’ve vetted it,” Neren said. “Smaller stores really see it as a big validator, and larger stores are starting to view us as an up-and-comer in the industry. It’s definitely helped us a huge amount.”

Right now, GrocerKey employees are making the deliveries for Woodman’s, but in the long term the company will likely make other arrangements as it pairs up with other operators.

This isn’t Neren’s first time handling online food deliveries. His first business, Madtown Munchies, served college students craving a late night snack. Neren started that business in 2006 after graduating from UW-Madison as a history major, later rebranding it to Munchie Delivery so he could try to expand into other college towns.

Munchie Delivery is currently not operating, as Neren’s focus has turned toward the potentially more lucrative GrocerKey. But he’s trying to find “the right person to take over” his old business.

“I started it when I was straight out of college, and I ran it for most of 10 years,” Neren said. “So we’re kind of actively trying to find someone to help that business live on.”

GrocerKey’s 18 employees, meanwhile, are working on improvements to its current service. With input from Woodman’s shoppers, the development team is figuring out ways to further personalize shoppers’ experience by remembering their favorite products.

They’re also improving the analytics and other back-end functions that store employees use to manage inventory and delivery schedules — functions that Neren said help GrocerKey stick out among its competitors.

“We try to take it a layer further,” Neren said. “We’re not just building a brand new website. We’re also giving them tools on the back-end to help them operate the service efficiently.”

–By Polo Rocha