Editor’s Note: This story was last updated on February 21, 2019.
“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 your neighborhood food co-op and grocery store at most times of the day, maybe within a couple blocks.
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 continue to sprout up like pea pods around our fair city.
If you’re wondering how big this industry has gotten, we had nine options to try out. We 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, we ordered the same five items from each service—kale, apples, eggs, milk, bread—though that was not always an option. We also added on miscellaneous items, sometimes to reach a minimum order.
Farm to People 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 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 us, this was a plus—our 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 a 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!
Farm to People
Farm to People is all about curation. The core of their business are Tasting and Fresh Boxes. Each month or week depending on your plan, 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 Tasting Boxes start at $29.99 per month whereas the Fresh Boxes are $59.90 per week. That price is a little steep but you get a lot of bang for your buck. Our box had pork spare ribs, two 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 those that are decent home cooks but don’t like to menu plan, Farm to People holds significant appeal. Having someone with good taste select your weekly sundries is a personal convenience—like wash-and-fold laundry or the occasional cab.
- Quality: The ingredients were all stellar, and they arrived in mint condition. Plus there was a well-designed card in the box (spoiler: everything Farm to People 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 us but we love the idea of taking home a box each week and seeing what surprises lie within. Plus there are recipes in the box —we 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 Farm to People 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.
- Price: Even though it’s a good assortment and the ingredients are top-shelf, almost $60 is a little steep.
In its march toward global domination, Amazon has muscled into grocery territory and mostly with the acquisition of Whole Foods. 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.
We hear a lot of idle chatter about boycotting Amazon, staying local, etc., but rarely have we 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; we were 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; we got a box of our 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..
- Minimum Order: Prime members pay $14.99 per month which covers unlimited deliveries of 50 bucks or more. Spend less than $50 and you incur a $9.99 delivery fee, 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 (our math would call that “pre-Internet”), this Illinois company partners with national grocery chains in different markets. 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 us posted on order status. We didn’t even mind that they were a bit late, as we got an apologetic phone call from a dispatcher.
- Personal Touch: The delivery guy was great, going so far as to take out our 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, we felt like we were bending our schedule around their available times. Peapod was willing to deliver in basically any two-hour window. (Ours came at 10 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 toward 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.
The Instacart experience depends somewhat on where you live. For instance if you live in Park Slope or Williamsburg you have an abundance of fancy grocery stores. Other locations and you get Key Foods, with the first item on a personalized Instacart page a sale on grape-flavored Smirnoff Ice. Yikes.
- Concept: It’s a neat idea, in theory. If you can get groceries delivered from Zabars and Fairway.
- 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 we 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: We found the site counterintuitive 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 an area, that should be clear from the outset. All the other services tell you straight away if you’re not eligible.
Bonus Lowlight: We were double-charged for half of our items and had to lodge a formal complaint.
The Wally Shop
Created by a former Amazon employee, the Wally Shop is a grocery delivery service specializing in minimal-waste packaging. As personal shoppers pick out all of your products the day your order is being delivered, the majority of your items will not only be be fresh but local.
- Schedule: The Wally Shop offers same-day delivery for orders placed before 2 p.m., but if you’re organized you can also schedule a delivery for up to a week in advance.
- Packaging: The Wally Shop only uses reusable packaging, such as Mason jars, produce bags and tote bags.
- Products: The company sources local, organic ingredients from farmers markets, co-ops and other bulk shopping stores.
- Delivery Fees: While there is no minimum order requirement, there is a 15 percent service fee to compensate the personal shoppers picking out your groceries, a $3.99 delivery fee and a refundable packaging deposit, about $1 per packaging. That adds up quick.
- Delivery Area: Right now, it’s only available in select Brooklyn neighborhoods.
Mercato brings together all the smaller merchants you might wish were available via Instacart. This is the site to keep in mind for when you are party-planning and know you’re not going to make it over to the butcher or cheese shop.
- Products: If you’re looking for specialty items—say, a selection of hummus, olives and pita from Sahadi’s, breads from Bien Cuit or a specific cut of meat from Dellapietras—this is for you.
- Delivery window: Many of the items are available for same-day delivery, so if you realize you’ve forgotten something when building your charcuterie board, Mercato has you covered.
- Delivery charge: Each shop has its own delivery charge and order minimum. It adds up quick.
- Delivery area: Your selection of shops is dependent upon your ZIP code and the stores’ delivery zones.
Do you want to be a person who makes it to the farmers market every week, but you just can’t make it work? Here’s OurHarvest, which brings together offerings from local farms—not just for produce, but meat, sprouted legumes, clams, pasta, dips and more. This service makes it simple to shop local on an everyday basis.
- Minimum order: The amount of food you get is all up to you, and it arrives packaged neatly in clear plastic or, in the case of meat, paper.
- Efficiency: You’re able to also pick up things like yogurt, broth, pretzels and sauerkraut made by local makers, so it replaces trips to small specialty grocers when you’re time-crunched.
- Transparency: Browsing the website, much of the sourcing info tells you exactly which farm the food is coming from and includes a short description of the farm.
- Delivery window: Depending on where you live delivery might only be available on select days of the week. For instance in Park Slope there were only delivery options for Sundays and Thursdays, what if we need food on Friday?
You may have seen the FoodKick bikes schlepping big purple boxes throughout Brooklyn. The FreshDirect-owned FoodKick is the delivery behemoth’s attempt at same-day delivery.
- Fast delivery: Our order arrived in a little over an hour.
- Selection: They seem to have something for everyone: a seasonal farm-share box with quality local produce, eggs and cheese; prepared meals; a fairly stocked drugstore. You can get booze with your order, too, making the service a virtual one-stop shop.
- Products: They have the most general, generic offerings of these services.
- Delivery backup: While you can order same day, depending on how busy they are, you might not get your order until after 9:00 p.m.
Jesse Hirsch, Alicia Kennedy and Bridget Shirvell contributed reporting.