Are the grocery delivery services worth it?

bloomberg grocery image
January 3, 2016
Tips

I cringe every time I read articles claiming grocery delivery is disrupting food. However, given I live in the nation’s start-up hot bed-the San Francisco Bay area-I decided to give in to curiosity and see whether grocery delivery services were worth it.

 

Our grocery situation is complicated

In any given month we typically visit Whole Foods, Trade Joes, Costco, Target, Safeway, Mollie Stones (a local store that is a hybrid between Whole Foods and Safeway), the local corner store, and/or Walgreens. Key drivers of our choices are meat quality, produce quality, price, and access to national brands with ingredients that despite my best persuasions I just cannot convince my husband to abandon. We’ve tried farmers market, but they just doesn’t square with our toddler’s weekend activity schedule nor are the prices competitive.

 

Our most usual weekly combination is Whole Foods/Safeway to get our mix of fruits, vegetables, meat and pantry staples. Keeping track of what we can buy at each store was a pain until we discovered a great grocery list app that keeps us honest across all our stores, but multiple store visit was still a pain.

 

I was curious if a solution to our grocery needs existed with one of the delivery services

If I could eliminate one of the store visits per week at a reasonable price, it would be worth it, but was this even possible? I decided to try two options-Amazon Fresh and Instacart- to see for myself. (Note: Walmart’s grocery service operates in the Bay area but since we don’t shop there for anything else, I didn’t consider trying it).

 

Amazon Fresh

amzn fresh bags

What it is: Amazon’s subscription grocery service that costs $299/year and requires a minimum order of $50 for delivery.  The $299 does include Amazon’s prime services.  Learn more on their website here.

Pros

  • The selection is pretty good
  • It can be delivered by 7am so I can unpack everything before leaving for work

Cons

  • Only carries brand names
  • Several major staples we use are missing
  • Produce is hit or miss and usually a miss in that it is either already over ripe or rotten or does so extremely fast
  • There is no rhyme or reason to what Amazon Fresh carries vs. Amazon Pantry vs. Amazon
  • Amazon’s prices are not always competitive

 

Instacart

instacart shopper

What it is: A service that delivers anything you select from a store such as Whole Foods, Target, Mollie Stones, etc. if it is in stock within 1-2 hours for $7.99 a delivery. Learn more on their website here.

Pros

  • Replaces a trip to Whole Foods
  • Can be delivered in two hours
  • There are no mark ups on prices in the store

Cons

  • There is always at least one substitute which I have to make via proxy versus being there in person
  • Produce quality is dependent on another person’s judgement
  • Pricey if it becomes a habit

 

Overall

While neither service is 100%, our family has shifted its grocery habits to Whole Foods/Mollie Stones and Amazon Fresh with an occasional trip to Target or Costco.  After several mishaps with produce from both Amazon Fresh and Instacart I no longer outsource this to anyone but myself.  It’s prevented last minute creative recipe making because I just discovered the eggplant delivered was rotten and has reduced food waste.  I have used Instacart here and there but as a regular solution it just doesn’t work for our family.

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Should you buy orange cheese and why is it orange anyways?

cheese view
December 24, 2015
cheese + Products

The recent announcements by almost every multi-national to eliminate artificial colorings and flavors in products from macaroni & cheese to candy reminded me of my long held curiosity for why some cheese is orange while others are not.

 

A little bit of history first

According to this story from NPR, dying cheese orange dates back to the 17th century. Cows in England ate a beta-carotene rich grass diet causing a slight tinge to the end result. However, as cheese mongers tried to literally skim the fat (cream) to reduce costs and use the cream to make other products to sell, they had to dye the cheese because the cheese because the cream was the ingredient which made the cheese appear orange. Instead, spices such as saffron, marigold, carrot juice and annatto were added to fake the orange color.

As the US was colonized, the practice of dying cheese carried over. And as food science produced artificial colors like Red 40, Blue 1, Yellow 6, Red 40 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake and Yellow 5 Lake, combinations of these were used by food companies to achieve orange hues in a range of products, including cheese.

What the Data Says

Of the 3,499 hard cheese products I analyzed, I focused on 988 of them. While a number of types of cheeses including Gouda and Havarti contained coloring ingredients, the concentration really fell to Colby and Cheddar products.

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Potato Chip Brands Deconstructed

potato chips 1
September 11, 2015
Snacks

There are 173 brands of potato chips.  What does this mean for you?

7 brands dominate

I looked at 173 brands ranging from the household names you know to boutique lines I had never heard of before. It really doesn’t matter.

These 7 brands own ~50% of the products on the market:

  1. Lay’s
  2. Pringles
  3. Ruffles
  4. Kettle
  5. Herr’s
  6. Wise
  7. Utz

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Best Snacks for School

snack food
September 9, 2015
Snacks

My son recently started school, and now needs lunch and two snacks for school-morning and afternoon.   In addition to the fruit we’ll pack for him, I visited the grocery store to explore other options to send as a snack for school.  While there are a lot of options, few of them are good.

 

Here’s are the few snacks for school I found with minimal ingredients, no artificial colors or preservatives and little to low sugar:

 

1. Jovial Einhorn Crackers

Replaces crackers for dips and munching.  Flavors include salt, cheese and rosemary.  No preservatives and taste great.

 

jovial crackers

 

2. Barbara’s Snackimals

Great replacement option for animal crackers.  Uses whole grain and has low sugar.  (Note: the chocolate and chocolate chip flavors contain Soy Lecithin and the Vanilla flavor contains mono calcium phosphate so I just buy the Oatmeal flavor).

 

barbara snackimals

3. Whole Foods 365 Rice Crackers

A great gluten free option that also free of preservatives and fillers.  Goes great with hummus.
365 rice crackers

 

What snacks do you send to school with your kids?

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What I learned analyzing 3062 Potato Chips

potato chips 1
August 13, 2015
Snacks

No one thinks potato chips are healthy, but just how unhealthy are they?

History

Potato chips date back to the late 19th Century in the US and the UK.  They originally showed up as chef-cooked restaurant fare.  By the early 20th Century, chips began to be mass-produced for home consumption.

Until the 1950s, chips (or crisps  in the UK) consisted of potatoes, oil and salt.  In the mid 1950s, two entrepreneurs in Ireland and the US separately developed technologies  to add seasoning during manufacturing.  The first flavors produced were Cheese & Onion, Barbecue, and Salt & Vinegar flavor

The early potato chips were sold in tins.  Wax paper bags and the invention of cellophane allowed potato chips to become a mass market product. Today, chips are packaged in plastic bags, with nitrogen gas blown in prior to sealing to lengthen shelf life, and provide protection against crushing.

 

The data

Potatoes, Oil and Salt dominate the ingredient lists of the 3062 products.

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Are Kale chips healthy?

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 11.36.11 AM
July 30, 2015
Products + Snacks

Kale is a superfood, packed with vitamins and minerals, but does all this goodness translate to kale chips? After analyzing 63 kale chip products, the answer is clearly yes AND no.

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What does removing artificial colors actually mean?

food dye
June 24, 2015
Ingredients

With the quantity of recent announcement by food companies  regarding the removal of artificial colors from products, it got me wondering just what removing artificial colors actually means for these products.

 

In the first six months of 2015, Nestle, Panera, Kraft, Hershey, McDonalds, and General Mills, all announced removal of artificial colors and flavors from at least some products in the United States.  Some companies went even further to include the removal of additional food additives and ingredients

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What I learned analyzing 3233 salad dressings

salad dressings
June 20, 2015
Dressings & Sauces + Products

Although a household staple, salad dressing averages ~19 ingredients. Do you know how your salad’s dressing?

 

History

Store-bought salad dressings gradually became available when restaurants began packaging and selling their dressings in the 1920s.   As the decades passed, increasing focus on health and demand for convenience contributed to salad dressing sales.  In 1950 sales totaled just 6.3 million gallons, but by 1970 this figure totaled 34.3 million gallons.

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What analyzing 187 Baby Food Products Verified for Me

plum just
June 18, 2015
Products

Baby food pouches may be the best invention ever.  However, reading these product’s labels may be the most important thing you do.

My Story

Idealism meets reality

The idealist in me hoped to make all my son’s baby food from scratch.  However, the realist in me knew this wasn’t going to happen 100% of the time.  My cute husband recognized this before I did, and he came home from one of our initial gazillion Target runs one afternoon with a couple of options.

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