Buying Groceries Online: A Discriminating Guide

Online grocers want us to abandon the supermarket. Is it worth making the switch?

SINCE THE DAWN of the internet age, we’ve been told that the iconic American grocery store will soon disappear. Huge stores that stock 40,000-plus items make as much sense today as a Tower Records, the theory goes. But grocery stores have remained largely impervious to the digital revolution—even in the wake of Amazon’s 2017 purchase of Whole Foods. Only about 3% of groceries are currently bought online. Food doesn’t travel as easily as an MP3 file, and habits, especially when it comes to something as intimate as food, are hard to break.

That doesn’t mean that companies aren’t trying. As we wait for Amazon—or anyone, really—to crack two-hour delivery, a crop of new online grocers is trying to win our attention. Some try to compete on price; others push organic to set themselves apart. Almost all focus exclusively on packaged foods, which don’t spoil and don’t require lots of unsustainable cold packs.

‘Habits, when it comes to something as intimate as food, are hard to break.’

But do these services offer enough to convert us to online grocery shopping? Is it worth buying packaged goods online if you still have to go to the store to buy produce anyway? And since many have annual fees, will you actually save money using them? The unsatisfying answer: It depends on what you buy and how often you cook and shop. We surveyed the landscape, tested staples and compared prices so you can find a service that works for you.

Thrive Market

The Offer: $60 annual subscription fee after free 30-day trial; free shipping over $49

PHOTO: F. MARTIN RAMIN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, STYLING BY ANNE CARDENAS

Variety and quality define the Thrive brand. This service offers a massive selection, very well curated. You can find everything from rice noodles and snack bars to baking mixes and organic coconut oil—even wine. The quality of the items I tested was universally high. After years of buying maple syrup at Trader Joe’s I was reminded what really good Vermont syrup (from Coombs Family Farms) tastes like (layers of caramel versus just sweet). Thrive’s house olive oil was round and buttery.

Thrive lets you shop “by diet,” meaning you can filter for only organic, say, or keto-friendly foods, a neat trick. Meat and fish—notably not available from competing services—come from pedigreed suppliers. My all-wild seafood box, with salmon, cod, shrimp and scallops, was as good as what they offer at my very expensive boutique fishmonger. (Shipping seafood requires cold packs, but Thrive does not use an excessive amount.)

Thrive certainly isn’t the least expensive. But if you’re trying to move most of your shopping online, it’s the best choice. And don’t fret the annual membership fee: If you don’t “save” $60 by the end of the year, you get a store credit for the remainder.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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