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Düsseldorf (dpa) - He is one of the biggest winners of the Corona crisis: the online food trade.

In the past three months, according to figures from the Federal E-Commerce Association, bevh, German citizens bought almost twice as much pasta, meat, fruit and vegetables on the Internet as a year before.

A billion dollar market is emerging - and many want a piece of it.

"At the moment the growth of the online grocery trade is more limited by the scarce capacities of the retailers than by the demand", judges Kai Hudetz, managing director of the Institute for Retail Research (IFH) in Cologne.

After the German citizens had given online grocers the cold shoulder for years, they ran down their doors in times of the pandemic.

At times, several dealers had to impose admission bans for new customers.

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According to experts, the top dog in the e-commerce business with fresh food is currently the Cologne retail giant Rewe, which has set up a nationwide delivery network at great expense and at the same time offers more and more shops the opportunity to collect goods ordered online.

Almost 90 percent of households could now be reached with these Internet offers, it is said in the cathedral city.

Arch-rival Edeka took a little more time to roll out a wide range of fresh products.

But now the dealer is apparently trying to make up ground.

In addition to the Bringmeister delivery service, which was previously only available in Berlin and Munich, and the regional offers of many Edeka retailers, Germany's largest grocery retailer has now secured shares in the start-up Picnic, which uses self-developed electric vehicles like a modern milkman to order groceries online at set times delivers.

Since then, Picnic has been growing rapidly in Germany.

In the past twelve months alone, the number of customers rose from a good 60,000 to more than 160,000, according to the company.

Only the big discounters Aldi and Lidl have so far been very cautious when it comes to online grocery retailing in Germany.

For them, the Internet is particularly difficult, says Hudetz.

"Because the high costs associated with the online offer simply do not fit your business model."

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In return, a number of newcomers are entering the market who want to take market share from the top dogs in the food trade.

This includes the delivery service Gorillas, which promises to deliver ordered goods to your door within 10 minutes.

So far it is only available in parts of Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne, but has only just been able to collect around 36 million euros from investors for its further expansion.

In spring, the Czech online grocer Rholik also wants to attract customers with its German subsidiary knuspr.de.

The aim is to “become number 1 in Germany in the e-food business,” the company announced confidently.

And brand manufacturers are also trying to use the spirit of optimism to establish their own direct line to customers, bypassing established retailers.

The Oetker Group took over the fast-growing beverage delivery service in a bottle.

According to media reports, this should have cost the group almost a billion euros.

There is speculation in the industry that Oetker could soon also sell pizzas or other products from its range via message in a bottle.

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But the Internet boom has a catch: "In Germany, nobody earns money with online grocery stores," says Michael Gerling, managing director of the Cologne-based retail research institute EHI.

The online grocery trade requires huge investments to get the business up and running, and huge expenditures just to get anywhere near profitability.

Other experts also believe that so far lucrative business can only be done in niches such as the wine trade.

Because the last mile to the customer is expensive.

According to the industry, the time-consuming delivery only really pays off for purchases of 80 euros or more.

That is why many retailers currently see the online offers more as an investment in the future and as customer service.

According to the EHI expert Gerling, retailers still have no choice.

The customer knows online offers from other industries and now naturally also expect them in the food trade.

"No big retailer will be able to do without an online shop in the long run, not even the discounters," says Gerling.

According to a forecast by the Cologne Institute for Retail Research, up to 3.6 percent of sales in food retail will be made online by 2025.

This would more than double sales on the Internet.

Internet shopping is convenient for customers, but a challenge for retailers.

"Earning money in online trading as a full-range provider like Edeka or Rewe is the toughest nut to crack in the grocery trade at the moment," believes industry expert Hudetz.

© dpa-infocom, dpa: 210114-99-19189 / 2