the Best of Food Delivery Services

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Abstract

With Instacart, you can fully customize your delivery in 30 minutes:

  • Write a recurring shopping list of $35 or more.
  • Choose your eligible grocery store on Instacart.
  • Find the items and save the list.
  • Define selection and replacement criteria.
  • Set a delivery schedule.

This cannot be matched by services where you pay for curation, such as Fresh or Hungry Root. Hungry Root is the way to go if curated, healthy variety is your spice for life (that’s you, working Millennial).

Meal Delivery

The standard model for meal delivery is to offer you subscription-based recurring deliveries that reduce the burden of the first two steps to eating a good meal: planning, shopping, preparing and eating.

Hello Fresh was the second of these food delivery programs that I tried. Like the other one, I will soon forget the name (I thought it was “Fresh” until I searched my email”). The value proposition is

  • Get only enough fresh food needed to make unique meals.
  • Meals modifiable based on diet.
  • Comes with directions.

The catch with this approach is the overhead required to learn the tempo and language of these recipes.

  • What exactly is their difference between mix and add?
  • Do I really need so many pans for this meal?
  • Which steps can I skip?

Unless you cook the exact same way, it will take additional time and mental energy to adjust your kitchen habits. This took more stress and time than it was worth.

Store and retrieve food

A very frustrating part I didn’t consider is the amount of energy it takes to familiarize myself to what’s in my delivery and what it’s for. First, ingredients aren’t always packaged the way you see in the grocery store. Garlic could be peeled and sealed in plastic, or whole and unpackaged. At your grocery store you’ve already become familiar with products, and you make a choice if and when you’d like to learn about other options. Here, it’s like everything you bought was an “option”. It is not always easy to answer:

  • Does this need to be refrigerated?
  • Does this need to be cooked?

Specific to the recipe-based programs, you also need to identify food according to the recipe out of 2-5 that may be included in your shipment.

Waste

In your big box of food, you have padding, possibly a waterproof liner, and a cold pack or two in addition to the big box. Each will need to be inspected to know what you can or should do with them. Environmentally friendly consumers will notice how quickly the delivery packaging adds up.

Hungry Root

I was surprised to like this so much.

It operates on a subscription for curated food like the others, but it does a better job of removing cognitive decisions through simplification. It’s edge is in accommodating a wider spectrum of eating habits, from snacking to cooking recipes. The product designers are keeping close to a number of fundamental values.

Specifically, they answer the two “what is this” questions by default:

Everything (I’ve gotten so far) is cooked and safe to eat, including the meat. Most everything should be refrigerated. Aside from, e.g., chopping hamburger or whole veggies, everything is prepped.

The recipes therefore are generally just combining and/or heating ingredients in 2 or 3 steps.

For me, hunger is the best spice, so this adds up to a very appealing bottom-line: everything in my Hungryroot delivery is snackable if I’m hungry enough.

But, like all of the other services I come to the same conclusion by the second delivery:

I just don’t eat as much salad as you think I do. More critically, most of the ‘variety’ I haven’t eaten before is because the price-value trade-off isn’t worth it in a grocery store, let alone with the profit margins you need to make up for.

Instacart

I’ll return to more fully describe Instacart. For now, the Abstract says what’s critical.

The catch with Instacart is their many points of price mark-ups. Some stores mark-up per-item and some give you store prices. Delivery fee and driver tips add up quickly. This is not a deal-breaker because they are greatly reduced with a subscription.

If you use Instacart in place of recipe food delivery options, this is far and away the cheaper, more customizable option. Whereas the recipe models will lock you in on choices and delivery half a week in advance, you can talk with your shopper as they are shopping a half hour before it’s at your door, to add, remove or switch items for a different flavor.

Other Food Delivery

Restaurant Delivery

GrubHub and DoorDash are only useful if you think of dinner an hour in advance, are too busy to prepare it, but not too busy to decide what it’d be.

Amazon Subscribe n Save

Amazon becomes the better alternative to Instacart if what you want is discounted, bulk, recurring, name-brand goods. I used to have Clif Bars delivered on a once every 2 months basis for 20% off (if you have 5 products delivered). But during covid, I have had multiple items repeatedly cancelled or delayed.

It is not worth your time if your order is changing regularly. Each order must be managed individually, so very quickly there are too many clicks required to cancel and set up subscriptions.

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