Quick, convenient, easy—there's a lot for consumers to love about Peapod's new virtual rail program that allows shoppers to buy groceries while commuting. There are also plenty of reasons for natural products retailers to stay informed about the new store model.   

This month, Peapod, a leading Internet grocer, placed a virtual grocery store at a train stop along Chicago's highly traveled CTA line. Just like shoppers would see in a brick-and-mortar store, billboards feature aisles stocked with household and grocery staples from brands such as Coca-Cola, Barilla, Procter & Gamble and Kimberly Clark.  

After downloading a free Peapod mobile app, shoppers can use their smartphones to scan the bar codes of products featured on the billboard.

"People always want to save time, and we're showing consumers that shopping can be done anywhere and at anytime," said Elana Margolis, manager of corporate communications at Peapod. "This model really pushes the idea of convenience which is what we're all about."

Thus far, the virtual retailer has only been approached by one natural products manufacturer interested in being included on a billboard, but it may not be long before the model catches the interest of other natural brands suspects Bill Crawford, director of retail programs at New Hope Natural Media.

Peapod's potential

At the Chicago stop, 7-foot tall virtual shelves line both sides of the 60-foot tunnel which in addition to helping Peapod sell products, could be a great marketing and advertising tool for companies, he said.  

If more natural brands get involved, the convenience factor of shopping on the go could lure busy moms and boomers—two major segments targeted by brick-and mortar natural products retailers.  

Already, other online retailers are buzzing about the potential of the Peapod model.

"Just knowing all that goes in to fulfillment and shipping, to be able to do this is quite exciting," said Sariah Smith, executive purchasing manager at Green PolkaDot Box, a direct-to-consumer natural products retailer. "It seems like a very grand undertaking that may impact the entire online retail model."

New to the U.S.

Peapod's virtual store isn't the first of its kind. Last July, Tesco, a British grocery chain, unveiled a similar model at subway stations in Seoul, South Korea.

Peapod brought the idea to the U.S. last month at Philadelphia train stations and received positive feedback from commuters, Margolis said. The newest Chicago location along the city's bustling red line was selected for being a high-traffic area. The train stop averages 17,640 commuters each weekday, the Chicago Tribune reports.

After a 12-week test period, Peapod will determine if other Chicago locations will be added.