- For most people, grocery shopping during the coronavirus pandemic involves masks and gloves, waiting outside of stores in socially distant lines, and a fear of contracting the virus.
- But for the 1%, life looks very different.
- Many wealthy families are having their private chefs and housekeepers procure and sanitize their groceries, according to David Youdovin, CEO of Hire Society, an agency that hires chefs, housekeepers, and other domestic staff for affluent families.
- Others are picking up free organic produce from private farms in members-only communities, or getting caviar and Wagyu beef delivered to their homes from high-end restaurant vendors.
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For most people, a trip to the grocery store during the coronavirus pandemic involves wearing masks, shopping at off-peak times, and an underlying awareness of the risk of getting infected with the virus.
But like many other aspects of life during the pandemic, buying groceries is proving to be entirely different experience for the the wealthy.
Affluent families are having their private chefs and housekeepers procure and sanitize their grocery orders. Others are picking up free organic produce from private farms, or having caviar, truffles, and Wagyu beef delivered to their homes. Wealthy families hiring people to do their shopping and cooking is nothing new — but some are hiring even more household staff as they find themselves with more time at home.
Here’s a look at some of the ways the rich are getting their groceries during the pandemic.
Groceries delivered by private chefs and housekeepers
High-net-worth families have long hired household staff to do their grocery shopping and cooking for them. That doesn’t seem to have changed during the global coronavirus pandemic.
David Youdovin, the CEO of Hire Society, a staffing agency that hires chefs, housekeepers, and other household staff for wealthy families, said that most of his clients have a private chef as part of their staff, and it’s typically either the chef or a housekeeper who does the grocery provisioning.
These families often order meat and produce from restaurant vendors such as Baldor, which has a $250 minimum for home deliveries. During the pandemic, the wealthy are taking every precautionary measure, especially when it comes to their groceries, according to Youdovin.
“I can tell you the vast majority of the housekeepers that we place within these residences are wearing masks, they’re wearing gloves, and if they are taking in a grocery order or a Costco run or whatever it is, they have a sanitary area and they have a dirty area,” he told Business Insider. “And [they] wipe it down with a disinfecting wipe and then let it sit for up to three days, depending on what material it is, and then they bring it into the home.”
Forrest Barnett, the head of Hire Society’s Southampton office, said that many of their clients in the Hamptons are shopping at farm stands right now.
“There’s a lot of farm stands here, and at some of the indoor places, you can call and they will literally bring the groceries out to your car, to where you don’t even have to set foot in there,” Barnett said.
Among Youdovin and Barnett’s clients, a monthly grocery budget can vary dramatically by family. But the salary alone for these families’ private chefs typically starts at $120,000 and can be as high as $400,000 a year.
“Then you can think about food cost on top of that and suddenly, it could very easily be $1 million a year for a single family, depending on the level of entertaining they’re doing,” Youdovin said.
But just because families might not be doing much entertaining in the current age of social distancing doesn’t mean they’re ditching their domestic staff. Youdovin recently told Business Insider’s Taylor Nicole Rogers that Hire Society’s clients, who typically own multiple residences, private aircraft, and have a minimum of 15 to 20 domestic staff, are “quasi recession-proof.”
“If the market tanks dramatically, they are still fine and will always need someone to help them manage their households, serve them their dinner, or cook them their dinner,” he told Rogers.
Inquiries to hire private chefs have surged among the ultra-wealthy during the pandemic, Tiana Tenet, cofounder of the The Culinistas, a private chef company that works in NYC, the Hamptons, and Los Angeles, recently told The New York Post.
“When people thought that this lockdown was going to be a few weeks, they were OK with takeout or cooking,” Tenet told the Post. “Now that they’re realizing that this could go on for a few months, they’re looking to outside help.”
The chefs procure the necessary groceries and bring them to cook in the client’s kitchen, wearing masks and gloves, Tenet said, adding that they advise clients to be in another room or leave their home while the chef is there to maintain social distancing.
Some people are even offering their household staff salary bumps to quarantine with them and continue their duties, as Katherine Clarke reported for The Wall Street Journal.
Martha Stewart told talk show host Seth Meyers that her driver, housekeeper, and gardener are staying with her at in separate residences at her Bedford, New York, estate during the pandemic. “We have three detainees, I call them,” she said in a video chat on Meyers’ talk show. “We make a nice dinner every night. We have a cocktail. We play cards after dinner.”
Members-only grocery pickup and private farms with free produce
In some private residential and country club communities, affluent residents have access to private on-site markets and organic farms — a much lower-risk destination during a pandemic than a bustling supermarket.
At a members-only residential community in Hawaii called Kohanaiki, where homes sell from $3 million to upwards of $20 million, residents have access to a private community farm where they can come pick up organic produce, such as lilikoi (passion fruit), mangoes, and eggplants, for free.
A spokesperson for the community told Business Insider that there has been a surge in foot traffic from members coming to pick up produce during the pandemic. A farmer is present to offer advice on what is the most ripe or best to pick.
At Talisker Club, a private residential club in the ski resort town of Park City, Utah, where homes range from $1.5 million to $9 million, residents have no need to go to a public grocery store either. They can order groceries and meals for curbside pickup from the clubhouse.
Youdovin said that some of Hire Society’s clients have their own organic gardens or even working organic farms complete with livestock.
Home delivery of caviar, live king crab, and Wagyu beef
While many people report weeks-long waits for grocery delivery slots on Instacart and Peapod, other grocery services cater specifically to the wealthy.
Before the coronavirus took hold in the US, Regalis Foods was delivering caviar, truffles, live king crabs, and Wagyu beef to the country’s top Michelin-starred restaurants, including Eleven Madison Park and Le Bernardin in New York City.
Now, the company has pivoted to delivering its gourmet products directly to people’s homes. Customers can get a live king crab for $395, American Wagyu beef bavette for $17 a pound, and a quarter pound of wild black truffles for $130. With orders of $275 or more, Regalis will throw in a free ounce of caviar.
Regalis founder Ian Purkayastha acknowledges that his company is “catering to a very specific socioeconomic demographic” — and he worries about whether or not that demographic will continue to shell out for gourmet products as the pandemic continues.
“I don’t know if people are going to shift toward buying pure essentials or if they’re going to continue buying higher-end ingredients,” he recently told Business Insider.
But while the wealthy continue to deal with the coronavirus pandemic in ways that aren’t available to most people, from fleeing cities to shelter in their vacation homes to getting their hands on coronavirus antibody tests ahead of the general public, they don’t seem to be kicking their pricey eating habits just yet.