Beyond Condoms, Cheese Puffs and Beer: How GoPuff Became Essential

Now more than ever, people are using the Philly company — founded to provide party supplies for college students — to deliver must-haves like toilet paper, milk and cleaning supplies. The company is offering a lesson in adaptability and community partnerships during the pandemic.

In a few short weeks, goPuff went from celebrating National Snack Day to being a crucial supplier of coronavirus essentials. Photos via goPuff

Last week, I ran out of popcorn just when I really wanted to snack on some buttery goodness during my quarantine movie night. (An every-night occasion as of late.)

I wasn’t about to venture to the grocery store solely for some kernels, because reasonable people should only go food shopping once or maybe twice a week during a pandemic quarantine. But my craving was formidable, as was my roommate’s (for peach rings), so she proposed a solution: goPuff.

Before that night, I’d used goPuff maybe once in my life. Ordering delivery for a single bag of Doritos (Spicy Sweet Chili flavor) or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s felt pointless, lazy and collegiate — and not in a good way. (The company was started by two 20-year-olds at Drexel University after all.) Plus, I knew I’d become enticed by other options and add 10 more snacks to my bag before long, all thanks to one little craving.

But last week I made an exception and ordered goPuff, because we’re in the midst of a pandemic after all, and the rules around laziness have changed. Ordering delivery in times like these makes us heroes and economy stimulators. (Just maybe don’t order goPuff all the time though, because climate change is still a thing — worsened by vehicle emissions — and cooking at home is probably the best option for you, your wallet and the planet.)

My roommate and I browsed the goPuff app for popcorn and peach rings, and then we remembered that goPuff offers a decent frozen food selection and thought, might as well stock up on some mac ’n’ cheese and vegan burgers, because they’re pretty good. And while we were at it? We started browsing for eggs, bread and milk — you know, the recently hard-to-come-by essentials. That golden trio was sold out; we weren’t the only ones to turn to goPuff in our time of need.

The Philly-based company, which had built a reputation for providing folks with quick, easy and completely unnecessary fixes of beer, condoms, rolling papers, bongs, nerd ropes — you name it — is perfectly positioned to become an “essentials” service amid the pandemic. Perhaps unsurprisingly, goPuff has seen a notable increase in customer demand in recent weeks, says spokesperson Liz Romaine. And it turns out the company isn’t just providing the Philly community with snacks and sex toys. Increasingly popular are cleaning products, over-the-counter medicine, meat, pasta, canned items, water and baby products.

Reflective of the company’s suddenly essential status, this past weekend goPuff rolled out a new bonus pay structure for employees that includes retroactive pay for the last two weeks. “An employee at one of our facilities who works more than 20 hours a week is eligible for a bonus,” says Romaine. GoPuff has also launched a handful of other pandemic-related initiatives, including a financial assistance program to ensure that any employee or driver partner who is quarantined or diagnosed with COVID-19 has a safety net of up to 14 days of financial assistance. There have been no layoffs, Romaine says, and the company is actually hiring. No word yet on whether any employees have contracted COVID-19.

In addition to ramping up cleaning and sanitation efforts for its drivers, goPuff recently adjusted its check-out process to make it easier for customers to choose non-contact delivery. You can now select the option when you’re paying for your order, and your driver will give you a call to let you know your items have been dropped off. No touching or signing required. (I still wiped down my popcorn box, though, to be extra safe.)

“Since the check-out update, we have seen a huge customer adoption of the non-contact delivery feature,” Romaine says.

There’s an exception if you get beer or some other age-restricted item, as you’ll have to show ID, which a driver can scan from a distance. And there are no more cash payments through goPuff at this time, as cash necessitates contact between driver and customer.

A few more lessons in community support: In addition to goPuff’s plan to hire thousands of drivers across the country, and recent partnerships with local companies like Federal Donuts and La Colombe (which are now offering their products through goPuff), the company has donated $1 million in orders to employees at participating hospitals on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic through its Health Care Support Initiative. In the Philly area, that means employees at Thomas Jefferson University and University of Pennsylvania hospitals will each get $25 toward goPuff orders — and free delivery.

“It is great that goPuff, a local Philadelphia company, is launching this program to support the needs of our frontline hospital workers during this crisis,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “When times get tough, Philadelphians rise to the occasion. This is the latest example of the brotherly love our city is known for.”

So needless to say, the next time I’m craving popcorn or just looking to stock up on bread, milk and eggs (in addition to some peach rings and maybe a pint of P.B. & Cookies), I won’t feel too bad using an app I once thought of as frivolous. Desperate times call for desperate measures. And of course, I’ll tip well.