Grocery Shopping Jetson-Style.

     Jetsons image courtesy of Hanna-Barbera

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If only life could be like the futuristic utopia of The Jetsons. A hungry Jane pushes a few buttons on the food-a-rac-a-cycle and there’s dinner for four. No chopping, no sauté pans to wash, and best of all– no grocery shopping.

Grocery shopping is the most universally detested of all household errands.

We are inconvenienced by trips to the dry cleaner, we shudder at the thought of holiday gift shopping, but nothing fills us with dread like a trip to the supermarket.

It’s misery from start to finish: the parking space in the next county, the shopping cart with a sticky wheel, the checkout line that inches along, the trips from car to kitchen hauling all those grocery bags. And worst of all is our knowledge of the futility of the task. As diligently as we apply ourselves, we know we will be back at it in a matter of days.

A number of innovations hold out the promise of streamlining the grocery shopping process.

MediaCart Holdings developed their smart shopping carts in conjunction with Microsoft. Create a shopping list at home and retrieve it on the screen of your computerized cart. The cart will plot your route through the market and check items off the electronic list as they pass the cart’s bar code scanner.

The Kitchen Companion 100 is a grocery manager for the kitchen. Scan the bar code of used up items before tossing them in the trash or recycle bin and the gadget creates a shopping list that can be printed or sent to cell phones and other hand-held devices.

The Ikan takes list management a few steps further. It has speech recognition so you can add items that bypass the scanner (like bar code-less produce or any of the one million grocery products in its database), and integrates with your home’s wireless network so you can review and edit the list. If you live in an area served by a participating grocery chain (D’Agostino, Giant, Stop ‘n Shop) or the online grocer Peapod, you can transmit the list for home delivery. Like Netflix for groceries.

Online grocery shopping is making a comeback.

After a promising start in the 80’s, online grocers fizzled out. Now they’re back, and this time around consumers have faster modems and greater comfort with online purchases. There are the same, inevitable drawbacks– you still can’t squeeze the tomatoes or check the expiration date on the sour cream. But once you’ve experienced the time savings and the ease of (often free) delivery, you might never set foot in another supermarket.

It’s not quite the space age lifestyle of the Jetsons, but then that show was set in 2062. Give us time.

Online general grocers with nation-wide (or close to it) delivery:

Amazon GroceryAUL Superstore, Groceries-Express My BrandsNet Grocer, and Shop Food Ex all carry broad assortments of mostly non-perishable brand name groceries. Automatic reorders can get you some deep discounts.

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