“I can’t imagine living in a place where I couldn’t order Thai food at 2 in the morning.”
It’s the clichéd lament of the New Yorker, a way of asserting our unwillingness to brave Duluth or Delaware or, really, anywhere but here. Ours is a city built on perpetual convenience, an avalanche of whatever you want, whenever you want it.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the grocery sphere — you can comparison shop between Dean and DeLuca and C-Town at most times of the day, maybe on the same block.
But there’s a deeper level of convenience to explore. Much like Seamless upended the takeout industry (“We’ll bring that 2 a.m. Thai food to you,”) grocery delivery services have sprouted like peapods around our fair city.
If you’re wondering how big this industry has gotten, I had nine options to try out. I even skipped some that didn’t quite fit, like Blue Apron, a service that completely curates your weekly order according to a specific menu, or Postmates, which offers Red Bull and Pepto Bismol — but no milk and bread. When possible, I ordered the same five items from each service — kale, apples, eggs, milk, bread — though that was not always an option. I also added on miscellaneous items, sometimes to reach a minimum order.
Quinciple is the one outlier on this list, as its weekly boxes are curated (à la Blue Apron). It slipped in before your editors fully hammered out the rules of the story. We are human!
Here are the results of this highly scientific study:
An official review of FreshDirect almost seems unnecessary — good chance you’ve tried it already. Since kicking off in 2002, this service has mushroomed into a true NYC behemoth. FreshDirect now employs 2000 workers, clocking $400-500 million in annual sales.
FreshDirect skews close to a traditional supermarket; they showcase their organics and locally farmed options, but you can also score CoffeeMate and canned green beans. For me, this was a plus — my shopping needs are broader than Kashi and kombucha.
- Immediacy: Unlike many of the companies here, which offer deliveries once a week, FreshDirect can typically hook you up the next day (assuming all the time slots aren’t filled).
- Selection: Few of the other companies matched FreshDirect’s selection. There’s an advantage to operating at this scale.
- Speedy: They showed up at the very beginning of the allotted time slot (not guaranteed to happen).
- Packaging: There was a silly amount of packaging here, like my cucumber that came in its own plastic bag. And for all the buffering, a few eggs still arrived broken. (It should be noted that FreshDirect touts its packaging as 100 percent recyclable.)
- Corporate Organics: Most conscious consumers know the difference between, say, Horizon and a small local organic farm. FreshDirect favors the former, with brands like Earthbound Farm on heavy rotation.
- Produce Transparency: Browsing the website, much of the sourcing info goes no further than country of origin. On arrival it was clear that most items came from big farms in California or Mexico. Just like a supermarket!
This one is like a front-door CSA, where you get a weekly assortment of organic fruits and vegetables delivered to your house or job. You can also choose a few add-ons from Urban Organic like eggs, milk and honey.
You have the option of ordering a Little Box (11 items, $24.99), Value Box (14 items, $34.99) or Extra-Value Box (14 items but more of them, $44.99). There’s also a weekly Juicing Box, if you’re into that kind of thing.
I went with the wee box and got kale, romaine lettuce, carrots, oranges, lemons, potatoes, kiwis, bananas, pears, apples and onions. No doubt the selection will shift as we head into warmer months.
- Purity: If you refuse to consume non-organic produce, this one will not stray.
- Range: Urban Organic serves all the boroughs, plus Long Island, Rockland County, Westchester County, as well as parts of Connecticut and New Jersey.
- Packaging: This was the winning service for a low level of packaging (unfortunately this leaves the produce more vulnerable to damage).
- Website/Interface: The website is a bit confusing and oddly set up. It took me awhile to realize that I would have to call them to order.
- Produce Quality: Most items were okay but many of the carrots were rotten and the lemons were on their way out. The greens arrived looking tired, though a little time in the crisper gave them a boost.
- Big Delivery Window: I was given a six-hour window on a Saturday, a particular bummer on one of our first beauteous spring days. New Yorkers are busy!
Quinciple is all about curation. Each week they choose a box for you, loaded with a tasteful range of produce, dairy, meat/fish and assorted “pantry items.” Most items were locally grown or produced, and many of the items paired well.
The price is a little steep ($50 for home delivery, $43 if you pick it up at a neighborhood hub) but you get a lot of bang for your buck. My box had pork spare ribs, 2 packs of yakisoba noodles, frozen edamame, a half-dozen eggs, baby bok choy, microgreens, shiitake mushrooms, Nova Spy apples, a watermelon radish, jalapeño peppers and a bag of bacon-fat peanuts. Not too shabby!
For my own needs, Quinciple holds significant appeal. See, I’m a decent home cook but don’t really like to menu plan. Having someone with good taste select my weekly sundries is a personal convenience — like wash-and-fold laundry or the occasional cab — I’d be willing to pay for.
- Quality: The ingredients were all stellar, and they arrived in mint condition. Plus there was a well-designed card in the box (spoiler: everything Quinciple does is well-designed) that laid out the farm/producer for each item, plus the conditions it was grown/raised/produced in.
- Fun: Maybe it’s just me, but I love the idea of taking home a box each week and seeing what surprises lie within. Plus there are recipes in the box — I made an awesome noodle dish with bok choy, shredded rib meat and shiitakes — and instructions for how to pickle a radish and cook edamame.
- Conscience All the produce is organic or organic-ish (no/low-spray), no GMO and uses minimal packaging and resources. Plus Quinciple only sells happy meat and sustainably caught fish. It’s a thoughtful operation.
- Choice: If you like to be in control, this is not the service for you. Quinciple allows no personal choice from week to week.
- Price: Even though it’s a good assortment and the ingredients are top-shelf, $50 is a little steep for a weekly expense that is only designed to produce two full meals.
- Name: After living in San Francisco for years, I’m kind of biased against startup names like Quinciple. It’s a minor thing; I’m being fussy. But I’d be more likely to suggest Quinciple to friends if saying it aloud didn’t make me wince.
Farmigo is technically a pick-up service, not home delivery, though they have locations all over Brooklyn and Manhattan. They have a good selection of meats, and it’s closer to a weekly grocery shopping unless you order their $50 “Bestsellers Pack” (hodgepodge) or $25 “Eat the Rainbow” (just produce).
Each drop site is administered by a chipper community member; when I had some credit card ordering difficulties, my rep was super-responsive and warm.
- Freshness: Farmigo only harvests after you place your weekly order, allowing you the pleasant sensation of someone picking your tomatoes after you click a button.
- Selection: They do a good job of promoting chef-friendly esoterica. Lion’s mane mushrooms and quail eggs and dried skullcap, oh my!
- Local: There’s a strong commitment to using local farms here, with only a few dead-of-winter concessions (January grapefruit, anyone?)
- No Home Delivery: I had to visit a local yoga studio which was actually quite cute and got me a little exercise and pleasant conversation. Actually, can we change this one to a highlight?
- Email Deluge: Once you sign up, Farmigo bombards you with emails, at least once a day. It’s enthusiastic and well-intentioned but way, way too much.
- Competition: Because you’re picking up instead of getting it delivered, the competition is any grocery store in your neighborhood. So if you live in a grocery wasteland, Farmigo rules. But if you’re near, say, a good co-op, the value lessens.
I first heard about Good Eggs several years ago in San Francisco (disclosure: I was briefly in talks to work for them), a city where grocery delivery hadn’t fully taken off. Essentially the goal was bridging the gap between farmers and consumers; farmers deliver your produce to the city after you place an order. They’re now serving Los Angeles, New Orleans and Brooklyn, in addition to the beloved Bay.
I had to drive to their warehouse in East Williamsburg to pick up my order (disclosure part 2: I live in Ridgewood). Apparently many outer borough residents also visit the warehouse; a Good Eggs employee told me wealthier folks often send assistants to pick up.
- Schedule: Good Eggs is seven days a week, almost 365 days a year. All you need is two days advance notice for your order.
- Efficiency: There is something very sleek and efficient about their setup, everything from the website to the immaculate warehouse space. These are good businesspeople.
- Products: Even though I ordered the same five items from nearly everyone, Good Eggs still managed to wow me with quality. (Special shout-out to the walnut levain from Runner & Stone.)
- Minimum Order: You have to spend 30 bucks, even if you’re just picking up. Not a huge hassle, unless you’re only ordering kale, eggs, bread, milk and apples.
- Delivery Area: Keeping things Brooklyn-only makes a statement (if unintentional) about the clientele they are targeting. This is a perfectly acceptable business decision, and I’m sure there are logistical considerations; it just gets under my skin. Update: Good Eggs now delivers to Manhattan. Queens soon?
I’d like to add a third lowlight for consistency, but honestly Good Eggs is a pretty solid operation. Ooh I’ve got one: The free Truffled Candy Bar with my first order was too tasty.
Nextdoorganics works something like a CSA — without the crippling upfront payment. You select a $20, $30, $40 or $50 weekly order size, then add a smattering of other select items (coffee yes, milk no). Skip weeks or change your order at will.
All the produce is organic — in practice, if not certified — and there’s a high premium on traceability. You pick up at locations throughout Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, or many neighborhoods have home delivery (mine did).
- Grassroots Activism: There’s a sweet grassroots feel to Nextdoorganics, even though they’re a sizable, well-managed company. My order was delivered by bike, and I had the option of donating to a food justice nonprofit with my order. They’ve also applied to accept WIC/EBT payments.
- Box Size: I got the smallest box for $20 (plus $5 delivery fee) and was quite impressed with the amount of fruits and veggies.
- Queens: Thanks Nextdoorganics, for acknowledging my borough.
- Commitment: I would prefer that the default was to make a new order each week rather than be automatically signed up. Not a huge issue.
- Time Glitch: Nextdoorganics indicated my box would be arriving at 11:30 p.m., rather than 8:00 a.m.—noon. Apparently they tell everybody that. Again, not a huge issue.
- 8:00 a.m. Delivery: I know I know, the early bird gets the kale, but it seems like the universal rule is that no phone calls or deliveries should happen before 9:00 a.m. Actually, none of these things are huge issues.
In its march towards global domination, Amazon has muscled into grocery territory. It makes so much sense, really. They’ve already got a massive delivery infrastructure; of course they should deliver turnips and pizza dough with your earbuds and designer kicks.
I hear a lot of idle chatter about boycotting Amazon, staying local, etc. but rarely have I seen anyone follow through. Amazon is convenient and affordable; you could say their customers have lazy and cheap streaks. Amazon’s Fresh offerings (as well as their Amazon Pantry dry goods) dovetail nicely into this trend.
- Selection: Surprise surprise, Amazon has a deep storehouse of available goods; I was able to order Ronnybrook milk and Dave’s Killer Bread and local apples. Multiple kale varieties, lots of organic stuff… you get the point.
- Price: Pretty reasonable, even for the big-ticket items. Example: a pound of local, grass-fed beef was only $9.
- Add-Ons: You can buy other Amazon merchandise with your order. Not their full selection, but some stuff; I got a box of my favorite pens. Those are some great pens.
- Packaging: As others have noted, Amazon Fresh has a real problem with excess packaging. Everything comes in huge plastic bags with styrofoam coolers inside. You can give them back, but that’s assuming you use Amazon Fresh again. My coolers are in the basement.
- Minimum Order: You have to spend 50 bucks, which makes casual impulse shopping out of the question — “I would like three raspberries, please.”
- Shop Local: We’ve gone over this, but Amazon is a big faceless company and you should shop local and independent and… oh, forget it. You’ve probably already placed your order.
Peapod is the oldest company on this list. Founded in 1989 (my math would call that “pre-Internet”), this Illinois company partners with national grocery chains in different markets. This surprised me, as I thought it was a Stop and Shop-run program. My order arrived with a brochure from Giant Supermarkets: Quel scandale!
Setting aside this shocker, Peapod has been around long enough to have a good grasp on logistics. It feels less like a scrappy startup and more like an old-guard member of the supermarket industry. It’s not warm and fuzzy, but it’s effective.
- Communication: They were very good about keeping me posted on order status. I didn’t even mind that they were a bit late, as I got an apologetic phone call from a dispatcher.
- Personal Touch: The delivery guy was great, going so far as to take out my eggs and check for cracks on the streets of Ridgewood. Cars were honking, but the customer comes first!
- Delivery Windows: With many of these companies, I felt like I was bending my schedule around their available times. Peapod was willing to deliver in basically any two-hour window. (Mine came at 10:00 p.m. on a Sunday.)
- Minimum Order: If you thought Amazon was bad, Peapod makes you spend $60. On top of that, there’s a $10 delivery fee. Make sure to use a first-time customer coupon code!
- Farm Sourcing: Much like a chain supermarket (or FreshDirect), you aren’t getting a lot of source info on your fruits and veggies. You get country of origin and not much else.
- Big Label Organics: This is not unique to Peapod but all organics were heavily weighted towards Horizon, Earthbound Farm and Organic Valley.
Instacart is a curious company, a little bit Seamless, a little bit TaskRabbit. You browse the selection at local supermarkets, then Instacart sends a personal shopper out to do your bidding.
Perhaps my Instacart experience would have been greatly improved if I lived in Park Slope or Williamsburg or somewhere else where I imagine an abundance of fancy grocery stores. I got, um, Key Foods. The first item on my personalized Instacart page was a sale on grape-flavored Smirnoff Ice. Yep.
Also weird: After I had picked everything out and was on my confirmation page, I noticed I was scheduled to pick up my food at a local Key Foods the following morning. When I emailed Instacart that there appeared to be some mistake, they said they don’t deliver from this Key Foods — isn’t this the core of Instacart’s business?
So I placed a big order, then walked over to a nearby Key Foods (confession: I hadn’t shopped there before). I asked a cashier about my order and she bellowed “Hey Jim, the guy’s here!” Jim pointed to a shopping cart full of bagged groceries. This was my experience.
- Concept: It’s a neat idea, in theory. If I could get groceries delivered from Zabars and Fairway, I would be psyched.
- Free Pickup Service: It’s kind of a perk to have someone else take things off the shelf for you and put them in a cart. Of course I tipped for this, so it wasn’t actually free. (Home delivery rates vary from $4—$10.)
- Rapid Turnaround: Out of all the services, you get the quickest turnaround here. If you’re willing to pay a higher fee, some customers can even get their orders within an hour.
- Surge Pricing: Instacart jacks its delivery rates based on high demand, like Uber. It’s unclear how high the rates can go; their wording is opaque.
- Clunky Website: I found the site unintuitive and difficult to navigate. Doing a keyword search gave spotty results, e.g. searching “milk” yielded a fraction of their actual milk selection.
- Poor disclosure: If you don’t deliver in my area, that should be clear from the outset. All the other services tell you straight away if you’re not eligible.
Bonus Lowlight: I was double charged for half of my items and had to lodge a formal complaint.
*Update: Good Eggs no longer operates in New York City.