A Closer Look at Direct-to-Consumer Grocery Delivery

A Closer Look at Direct-to-Consumer Grocery Delivery

A Closer Look at Direct-to-Consumer Grocery Delivery 1440 428 Chute Gerdeman

Established online players like Amazon are grabbing up new markets, while traditional grocers like Giant Eagle are testing online ordering programs, and there’s no shortage of meal delivery services, as well, like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. Today’s consumers can get most of their grocery essentials at the convenient click of a button, but I wondered if these services were actually delivering on the experience? To get a personal perspective, it only made sense to test it out for myself.

But first, here’s a brief history of me as a grocery customer. I’m a 35-year-old working mother of one toddler, and the wife of one working husband. Pre-baby, I would devote my Saturdays to chores, exercise and grocery shopping at Aldi, Kroger and a local grocer who had the best butcher, liquor store and unique eats. I loved cooking everything from curry with fresh naan to homemade pasta and coffee cake at 7am.

Post-baby, I rush to the grocery store during my lunch break so I don’t miss out on precious kid time in the evenings. My walk to and from the store doubles as exercise, since I often buy almost more than I can carry back three blocks to the office. Meals have become more functional than entertaining, but healthy (grain, protein, vegetable). And on days I don’t want to cook, we order some form of takeout.

In need of inspiration and curious about the direct-to-consumer delivery hype, I decided to try Green Bean Delivery, Giant Eagle Curbside Express, Hello Fresh, Blue Apron and Amazon Prime 1-hour grocery delivery service. Here’s how it went:

Green Bean Delivery

Membership-based subscription service Green Bean Delivery prides itself on its organic produce and natural groceries from local farmers and artisans. I subscribed via Groupon for $20 for a small produce bin, normally valued at $35.

PROS:
Packaging -The reusable, green utility bin was on my front porch when I arrived home after work. Inside a Styrofoam cooler complete with an ice pack to keep the product cool.
Food – The food is seasonal, some local, organic produce.
Inspirational – What to do when I have tomatillos and pineapple in the same basket? Let the experimentation ensue.
Website – The site was user friendly, customer service was great, and they always included a detailed invoice. Occasionally I had to skip a delivery if I went over my grocery budget or we were out of town.

CONS:
I don’t really have time to look up recipes like I used to, so the extra work added a little more time.

Giant Eagle Curbside Express

Hard to believe it’s been almost four years since Giant Eagle launched their Curbside Express. Finally making it’s way to Columbus, I received a delivery fee waiver in the mail and gave it a whirl.

PROS:
Website – I could easily find most everything on my list, making it almost a one-to-one in-store shopping experience.
Flexible timing – I selected a 6pm pick up time on a Wednesday, making it a convenient trip after work.
Pickup – With baby in tow I pulled into the parking lot with the designated pick up area easily in sight. I called the number listed on the signs and out came my pre-packed order and a friendly associate. Trunk popped, groceries loaded, receipt signed and I was homeward bound.
Product – Best served for household necessities, paper towels, pet food, etc. that don’t take a lot of consideration but are more of just fulfillment.

CONS:
Product – As I unpacked my groceries at home I came to the stark realization that I clearly do not know how to weigh produce. Two bananas and a puny head of romaine won’t take us past Thursday afternoon. So be sure you have a good understanding of portions, or take note when you’re shopping in-store.

Hello Fresh

Known for their healthy, portion appropriate meals, subscription delivery service Hello Fresh is supported by a team of nutritionists and chefs including the notable Jamie Oliver. With a $40 off coupon, I ordered 3 meals for 2 people totaling $30.

PROS:
Packaging – Meal and nutritional information was clearly labeled on the outside of main box. An insulted foil cooler layer inside kept the outer shell dry. All items except meat are in a shoebox-sized package, which fit perfectly in my fridge. Items like fish are clearly labeled “eat first” for the freshest food experience.
Instructions – Each delivery includes an easy to follow recipe booklet, which is nice to hang onto for future use to recreate the meal.
Food – Delicious, restaurant quality with a variety of prep times ranging from 30-40 minutes.
Smell – Fragrant herbs and spices that I might normally overlook in the store.

CONS:
Price – Without coupon the normal price would come in at $69 for 3 meals for 2 people, approximately $11.50 a person (ouch).
Service – I didn’t receive a notification reminder of delivery, and I forgot to cancel my account, so I was automatically charged $69 for continued delivery service.
Waste – Everything is nicely packaged, but between the individual boxes and small gars, it’s a good thing we recycle.

Blue Apron

With high standards for ingredients and conscious of maintaining a sustainable food system, Blue Apron’s mission is to make incredible home cooking accessible to everyone. Normally $59 for a 2-person plan, I ordered through Groupon for just a mere $29.

PROS:
Food – An interesting menu of ethnic-inspired dishes (more so than Hello Fresh) like Beef Tartines and Crispy Catfish with Yuzo-Kosho Udon.
Smell – Again, fragrant herbs and spices that I normally would overlook.
Website – I found it intuitive and easy to select meals. And for those look for easy access at their fingertips, you can check out the Blue Apron app for additional convenience.
Price – It was $10 cheaper than Hello Fresh for the same amount of meals.
Cook Time – About 10 minutes on average, which is minimal for most.

CONS:
Packaging – The exterior and interior wrapping was similar to Hello Fresh, but the individual items were wrapped in brown paper bags with stickers and seemingly thrown into the box. They took up an entire drawer in my refrigerator.
Food – Unfortunately there was very little protein in the basic 3 meals for 2 people.
Waste – While it streamlines dinnertime, I’m not a fan off the waste—paper bags, plastic bags and containers, cardboard boxes and gel-filled ice packs.
Prep – It required a little more skill to prepare the meals (lots of beautiful little slices).

Amazon Prime 1-Hour Delivery

Amazon has practically changed the pace of retail delivery, so the one-hour food delivery service was a logical evolution for the brand. Available to members only, it’s $10+ a month to subscribe to Prime, and they require a $20 minimum order, plus a suggested tip at checkout.

PROS:
Convenient – Sunday morning I forgot coffee, parmesan cheese and cooking spray at the grocery store and did not want to run out in my pajamas to get them.

CONS:
Where do I begin? Prices above normal for groceries, one-hour delivery was not available at the time I ordered so it took 1.5 hours, and the app wasn’t user-friendly. In the time it took me to download everything, find it on the site and check out I could have run to Aldi, paid $8, come home and eaten breakfast. Lesson learned.

Takeaway

Clearly I like a deal and will try most new things with a discount, which could be a great way to introduce curious consumers. Each experience offered something good (and a few bad), but the ultimate experience might be more of a hybrid of the offerings –Green Bean’s price point and minimal waste with Hello Fresh’s flavor and inspiration. As far as Amazon and Giant Eagle, I might normally pass, but willing to reconsider if I’m in a pinch with an immediate need.

Beyond my direct-to-consumer test, I see meal and grocery delivery solutions as a trend to watch. There’s a market of consumers looking for quality food who are willing to shell out a little extra for convenience if the product delivers. Grocers should take note of the elements of ease like email reminders, app access and recipe suggestions.

Photo Credit: Groupon | The Columbus Dispatch | Seattle Times | Oh Happy Day | Hello Real Life | Fairweather | Chicken Scratch | Erin’s Food Files | Six 19 Studios |

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