Fresh Grocery Delivery: The Pros & Cons

by in Grocery Shopping, June 22, 2009

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Grocery delivery services offer point-and-click convenience and door-to-door service, but are they the smartest and safest way to buy your food? Here are some things to keep in mind before you place an order.

The Basics
There are several large, online grocery stores — Fresh Direct, Pea Pod, Vons and Amazon — that deliver to multiple states, but even some local mom-and-pop grocers offer home delivery services, too. Most of these stores offer the same generic and name brand items as you’d find on store shelves — you’ll even find deli, produce, frozen, healthy and beauty, bulk items and cleaning products. Most also offer a wide range of kosher and organic foods and even some local options — and many specialize in their own branded or commission special prepared meals.

Typically, services charge a delivery fee and will usually give a discount for the more money you spend. There’s almost always a minimum order requirement, too ($30 for Fresh Direct and $60 for Pea Pod in my zip code). If your favorite online grocery source has a brick and mortar location (like Stop & Shop or Giant for Pea Pod), be sure to check the store to compare prices. Delivery items may be a bit more.

The Good and the Bad (or Spoiled)
I’ve ordered from these types of services in the past, and I’ve discovered some very distinct pros and cons. The home delivery was great, especially when I lived in a city where I had to walk and carry everything, but I did have trouble coordinating a drop-off time that worked for my schedule (they often tell you a two-hour window — just like the cable company). Being a dietitian, food safety always pops into my mind – I was concerned about everything being fresh and whether perishable items were kept at the proper temperature in transit. My orders also came in huge boxes — sometimes even just one small item in a larger box. That’s lots of waste for me (and the environment) to deal with.

In most shipments, I wasn’t pleased with the produce I got — it wasn’t fresh enough for my liking and one time, some of it was spoiled and I had to toss it (I did receive a refund after calling customer service). Based on my research and personal experience, here are some more important things to keep in mind:

    Pros

  • To-your-door service
  • Big orders are easier to manage for city-living — no carrying required
  • You can keep your budget in mind as you add (or subtract) items to your online cart
  • Nutrition information and food labels for all items are available online
  • Time saver: you don’t need to go to the store and you can save weekly must-haves so they’re always on your list
    Cons

  • The food may not always be as fresh as if you went to the store
  • Scheduling a drop off time may be troublesome
  • Extra cost of delivery fees and minimum order requirements
  • If a customer service problem does occur, it may take longer to work out
  • Waste factor: lots of packaging

Order Smart
If you do choose to order from a delivery service, keep the following things in mind – and don’t be afraid to call and ask questions before placing your order.

  • Call to be sure the food travels in a refrigerated truck (it’s actually mandatory by law).
  • Make the proper arrangements for delivery if you live in an apartment building or complex — does your door buzzer work? Can someone else sign for it immediately?
  • Make sure someone is home to put the food away ASAP!
  • Check your order when it arrives to make sure you got what you paid for.
  • If you receive items that are incorrect or spoiled, call customer service right away for a refund (check the refund policy with your particular vendor).
  • Some of the sites offer recipes and cooking instructions for things like meat and fish; definitely check them out!
  • Here are few more FAQs from the Fresh Direct website.

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Comments (10)

  1. Krikri says:

    Groceries fresh from the farm and quickly delivered to buyers is one of the easy options towards buying wholesome food. In your ordering suggestions, the second point truly poses problems for delivery men. Some street names and locations have official and colloquial addresses.In many cases, the companies use official addresses which can vary with that given by the buyer. It serves buyers to offer addresses that leave no ambiguity. For purposes of clarification, the buyer can give the name of a close landmark or popular eatery.

  2. seldomyes says:

    My city has a couple grocery delivery options, and I use one of them quite frequently since I don't have a car and so getting groceries by walking limits me to what I can carry. I agree with your tips for the most part. I have found really good produce at my grocery store, however. I think it depends on their reputation as well as how comfortable you feel in sending things back. My grocery store is locally owned (I would trust the giant grocery delivery services you mentioned less) and has a great reputation in the community. Further, on the rare occasions that I've had to send things back because they weren't what I was looking for (twice with produce – wrong kind of apples – and once with a type of yogurt), they were very accommodating and delivered my replacements right after. n

    As for convenience, my grocery service has online ordering (some I guess only have telephonic ordering?), and allows you to choose one-hour delivery wait periods, rather than 2-hour wait periods like you mentioned.

    My city also has reputable co-op services, one associated with another locally owned grocery store, another associated with farmers' market groups in the area. I actually would prefer one of these services, because I do tend to buy more produce than anything else and the variety I get at my store is not as great as at those services, but they don't offer plans for the single person and/or for the student. So I would be overwhelmed with food every week, and wouldn't be able to opt out certain weeks/months of the year when I'm not in town.

  3. Helga Barron says:

    When I lived in Boston, the store that Julia Child used would deliver. I used the service twice (mainly to test it out.)
    The good news was that the prices were the same as they were at the store and there was no delivery charge. The bad news was that both times I ordered, my produce came sad & wilted. Worse yet, it took the delivery person about three-to-four hours to deliver the items to my house. Thus, everything that was supposed to be cold or frozen was melted or in bad shape. The convenience was great, but the condition of the food wasn't. I plan on trying home delivery again at a local store near where I live now.

  4. Marlee says:

    For the last 4-5 years I have used a delivery service. I am disabled and cannot heft heavy bags of groceries any more. The service is owned and run by the grocery store itself. There are three options for delivery charges. From free to $13. They give you the option of letting the store pick an alternative should they be out of the one you selected. I have never had them show up later than the desired time nor has the produce been wilted or frozen products wilted. On occasion there has been a "no show" in the delivery for which my bank account was promptly adjusted. Once there was a substitution that I had not authorized. All in all for a time period like this, these gliches are totally acceptable. And the drivers are friendly, helpful and fast to bring things in. Oh, and they call before they get here so I can brush my hair. :)

  5. Randi says:

    I have been using Fresh Direct for a while and recommend it for the same reasons listed in the 'pros' section of this article — it helps me keep to a budget, and its easier to read the nutritional information and make better choices — less impulse buys. When I'm in a grocery store, people are always walking around me while I read the labels, so online shopping is better. Also, I did some comparison shopping and the prices are very good compared to local grocery stores. I have had problems with produce, but Fresh Direct has added ratings, which I have found to be very accurate.

  6. Carol G. says:

    You guys don't realize how fortunate you are to have access to this service. I moved from the Washington suburbs to a border town in Texas, which is where I became disabled. My next door neighbor in Maryland used Peapod while she was very ill and was thrilled with their service. So I attempted to order online at Peapod and was informed that they did not deliver in Texas. Therefore, inquired at the only game in town (HEB Grocery) via their corporate offices in San Antonio and Corpus Cristi, the two nearest me, on May 31 suggesting they partner with Peapod and have yet to receive the courtesy of a reply, although South Texas is about 30 – 50% retirees and other infirm souls. Wouldn't you think they would jump at the Idea? Count your blessings, folks!

  7. Just before winter begins, I order all the heavy stuff. It keeps me stocked for a few months and I don't have to carry everything through the ice and snow. My last deliver was placed in the laundry room, cabinets, refrig and freezer. The delivery guy even took all of my coupons. What a great service.

  8. Alicia says:

    I use a grocery delivery and have found that the produce is fresher than my local grocery stores. For me it is simply a convenience, I work full time, go to school, am married and just bought a house. Not having to go grocery shopping and fight the crowds is totally worth it to me! One less thing off my to-do list.

    The company I use packs things in such a way that it can sit for up to 4 hours packaged before I have to worry about putting it in the fridge/freezer. I am home when they deliver (cleaning or studying, it seems) so I don’t know how accurate that is but would be interesting to find out. I have only had one issue with a small package of cottage cheese exploding, the same day I sent them an email and within 24 hours it was credited back to me.

    Signing up for this service is definitely one of the best decisions I have made! Totally simplifies my life.

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