- Seattle-area food retailer Town & Country Markets has deployed an all-electric fleet of three refrigerated vans to deliver groceries to customers from five of its six locations, the company said in a press release Tuesday.
- Town & Country is also moving goods between its stores using the battery-powered vehicles, Greg Dronkert, owner and general manager of PacWesty, a locally based adventure travel company that owns and operates the vans, said in an interview.
- The partnership represents an expansion of the companies' existing relationship, which began when Town & Country began delivering groceries from one store using a single PacWesty camper.
Town & Country first started working with PacWesty in the early days of the pandemic, when the family owned grocer was racing to serve shoppers online and the travel company suddenly found itself without customers.
To stay in business, PacWesty pivoted from serving people looking to spend time in the outdoors to transporting groceries, initially donating its delivery fees to a food bank, Dronkert said. "We responded out of a sense of community, but quickly realized that, wow, there's a market here," he said. "We said, 'you make sure it's in the right bags and says where it's going to go, and we'll make sure we get it there.'"
PacWesty started serving Town & Country customers from the grocer's store on Bainbridge Island, Washington, using one of PacWesty's electric Volkswagen campers, but had to add gas-powered vehicles to the effort when the delivery program grew to additional stores, Dronkert said. Town & Country now provides delivery service at its Ballard, Shoreline, Poulsbo, and Mill Creek stores in addition to the Bainbridge Island location.
"As we considered entering our communities and neighborhoods, we didn't want to show up with noise and added pollution," said Ryan Ritter, senior director of technology and products for Town & Country Markets, in a statement.
As the e-commerce service grew, PacWesty converted three Ram ProMaster vans to electric power and dedicated them to Town & Country. The company began providing all-electric service on all of the routes it runs for the grocer early in 2022, Dronkert said.
"From the day we teamed up with them and started delivering groceries, we have not stopped running. We have been working and refining and tweaking and improving, and it has just been nonstop. And now we've got a really dialed-in system," he said, noting that his company has expanded the number of full-time employees on its payroll from eight to 15 during the past two years.
Town & Country is bringing on the larger electric delivery fleet as it consolidates its stores under a single name in a move that has seen its former Central Markets and Ballard Market brands go away, according to the press release. In addition, the grocer plans to expand the number of high-speed charging stations at its stores by the end of the year, according to the announcement.
The systems that cool the vans' batteries keep their cargo areas cold, taking away the need for conventional refrigeration technology, PacWesty noted in the announcement.
According to Dronkert, PacWesty is managing order management for Town & Country's e-commerce service in addition to providing the delivery fleet. That includes using cloud-based software to batch orders and assign them to drivers, he said.
PacWesty has used its transition away from relying on travel services to position itself as a turnkey transportation provider, Dronkert said. The company handles routine maintenance, provides drivers and handles other tasks related to keeping the vehicles in service.
Now that it has established itself as an e-commerce provider, PacWesty is looking to enter relationships with other retailers, Dronkert said, emphasizing that he does not intend to work with food retailers that compete with Town & Country.