Internet Grocery Shopping Experiment – Groceries Express Fail

Heat Wave

My car has been acting up lately. I know what it needs and already have the part (water pump).  Unfortunately, it has been lethally hot outside for the past few weeks. We’ve been under excessive heat advisory for over two weeks now, with 115-120 degree temperatures. I even saw a 122 degrees on my thermometer the other day. The heat has probably contributed to my recent lack of productivity here in the written world. Needless to say, it’s not conducive to being outside doing car repairs either. The car is not completely disabled; I can drive it 5-10 miles at a time without a problem, but I don’t trust it for a 50 mile round trip to the supermarket.

Shop Without Going Shopping

What better time, I thought, to try online grocery shopping. With gas prices continuing to rise, perhaps it might be a viable option, especially if I factor in the two hours it takes to go, shop, and return. Not to mention the temptation for impulse shopping. Internet grocery shopping would be a good exercise in discipline, too, forcing me to carefully make a list and stick to it without opportunity for cheating.

Out Of Service Area

Where could I do this internet shopping? If I lived in the Phoenix metro area, Safeway would deliver to me. Not out here, though. It seems most decent sized cities have at least one grocery store or service that offers home delivery. Heck, if I lived in the city, I’d probably be within a mile or two of a supermarket and quite possibly within easy walking distance. I wouldn’t need delivery.

A Few Options

The two biggest internet grocers, Peapod and Netgrocer, were of little help to me. Peapod only serves northeastern states. Netgrocer will ship anywhere, but unless you are very close (again, the northeast US) shipping rates become prohibitive.  And of course, no dairy, meat, or fresh produce, either, outside of their local service area. What other options?

Amazon has a pretty good selection of non-perishables, and the prices aren’t too bad, but it seems you have to buy everything in minimum quantities of six (or more). I don’t have room to store six of everything. And they don’t do meat, dairy, or produce.

Maybe I Found One?

I found another place — Groceries Express — with slightly better prices than Netgrocer, more reasonable shipping rates, and they even had some refrigerated items on their site. I decided to give it a try. I chose a small assortment of items that I needed: a bag of whole-bean coffee, hard salami, a couple of kinds of crackers, a jar of olives, and paper towels. I also wanted to see how they handled refrigerated items, so I ordered a couple different kinds of cheese as well as a jar of Claussen pickles.

I ordered on a Friday afternoon, expecting the order would be filled and shipped the following Monday. While my order’s status changed to “pulling from warehouse” on Monday, it didn’t actually ship until Tuesday evening. It arrived in Phoenix that Friday, where it sat in a warehouse over the weekend until it was delivered to me on Monday.

Epic Fail

The large red “refrigerate on arrival” label on the box was promising. I opened the box, and found the contents to be efficiently packed. One of the two glass jars was wrapped in a sheet of foam, and the other in some sort of paper-based pad. There was no broken glass, but there was a definite pickle odor. The paper-wrapped jar was the Claussen pickles. They apparently were leaking from around the lid seal. Luckily the paper padding had absorbed the relatively small bit of liquid, preventing damage to the other contents. More importantly, no attempt was made to keep the pickles cold (Claussen pickles are made cold, never boiled, and therefore must remain refrigerated for safety as well as quality). The cloudiness of the usually clear liquid told me they were spoiled and would be both undesirable and unsafe to eat. Two plastic pouches claiming to contain cheese enclosed two oily globs of matter — one yellow and the other orange.

Even the crackers were mostly broken (and the saltines tasted like cardboard — the manufacturer’s fault, not the vendor’s), so all I had left for my $80 and over a week’s wait was coffee, salami, paper towels, and a small jar of olives. Needless to say I was not pleased. Their mishandling of the refrigerated items, especially since their availability was the reason I chose this company, is inexcusable.

Back to the drawing board. I guess internet grocery shopping isn’t designed for those of us who could really benefit. Perhaps there is still a way I can do my grocery shopping with a minimum of driving. Maybe, using a combination of sources, I can meet my culinary needs without having to stray too far.

Shop Local

While the nearest real supermarket is 25 miles away, might there be a closer option? I have my choice of three convenience stores right up the street, all with an equally overpriced and virtually nonexistent selection of actual groceries. But there’s a small General Store about seven miles away that I recall had a slightly better selection and somewhat lower prices. Worth a look-see. It turns out that they have enough of a selection to survive on, if one isn’t too picky. Canned meats and fish, some basic fresh produce (I saw bell peppers, lettuce, cabbage, celery, onions, and potatoes, as well as common fruits), frozen veggies, basic dairy (milk, butter, eggs, and cheese), and plenty of boxed, canned, and jarred goods.

I can continue this minimal-driving grocery shopping experiment by purchasing as much as I can at this relatively close general store. It will let me reduce my driving while also allowing me to spend my money closer to home. Some of the slightly more exotic (at least by rural standards) items like whole-bean coffee, herbal teas, and “raw” sugar I’ll have to buy online and have shipped. I might even indulge myself with an occasional trip to the real supermarket. Schwan’s could be an option, too, for some items. In addition to the ice cream they are well-known for, they also deliver an assortment of frozen foods. Mostly ready-to-microwave entrées and meals, but they do have frozen meats, vegetables, and ready-to-bake bread too. And they even deliver here in my area.

What’s Your Experience?

If any of you have any experience with internet grocery shopping or other food delivery services, good or bad, I’d love to read about them in the comments.

22 responses to “Internet Grocery Shopping Experiment – Groceries Express Fail

  1. Well, Amazon does have meat, dairy and veggies if they come in cans – some things like evaporated milk are (or were, I haven’t checked recently) sold in their gourmet section, but for ordinary prices. You could survive on Amazon food if you had room to store it.

    Shopping online for delivery gives me as many opportunities as shopping in person for impulse shopping. It’s all there, same as it is in the bricks and mortar. I agree, though, I’m likelier to stick to my list and my budget when I shop online. I just placed an order this afternoon, and controlled myself fairly decently.

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      Not just evaporated milk, Meg. You can get shelf-stable “real” milk in cartons (Parmalat is a common brand). I buy it sometimes even in the grocery because I can keep some extra – lasts for months without wasting space in my tiny fridge. I’ll agree that I could survive even on only Amazon food, but I’d sure miss things like cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt.

      I don’t find the impulse urge as difficult to control online, mostly because the sellers aren’t clever enough yet to try to tempt me with things I actually want at good sale prices – usually the checkout upsell suggestions are for regular price items, and often things I’m not even interested in, so are easy to resist.

  2. I feel your pain. Although I have never used the internet for grocery shopping, I have camped at free campsites that were near tiny towns offering only minimal supplies, with the closest supermarket an hour’s drive. Fortunately, I was able to do the hour drive, stocked up big time, and used the local stores for fill in needs. I am curious as to how you do in your quest for being successfully supplied with your groceries.

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      Maybe once I’ve sufficiently decluttered, I’ll be able to afford the space to stock up a bit more. I dunno, though. I had accumulated a lot of food items that I recently had to throw away because I had tried to stock up on too many things.

      I’ll do a follow-up post in a month or so, Marti, to report back on how it goes with the ongoing shopping experiment.

  3. I buy meat from Schwan’s since they deliver to our current RV park but their steam-in-the-bag vegetables turned out to be bags of bags which, I assure you, will not fit in your RV’s freezer unless you have the big 4-door refrigerator our current RV came with. Many of their meats also come in big boxes but we simply repackage them so they fit.

  4. Mike | HomelessOnWheels

    Thanks, Linda. It’s nice to hear firsthand from a satisfied Schwan’s customer. I have the little 6 cubic foot fridge with the 5-inch tall freezer compartment inside. I don’t do ice cubes, so at least I can use all the space for food. Do you think the individual (inner) bags of the veggies would fit? Perhaps I can split a bag with a neighbor. Also, have you tried their bread? Long ago I used to get frozen bread dough at the supermarket, but I’ve looked again recently since I’ve donated my bread machine, and the supermarkets don’t seem to carry it anymore. It sure would be nice to have fresh-baked bread again without all the work.

    • You might be able to get the inner bags of one flavor of veg into your freezer but I’d get tired of eating that one type of veg long before I used them up since each inner bag says it serves four. I no longer eat grains so have not tried Schwan’s bread. Have you tried the no-knead bread recipe? It might work for you. It gets rave reviews from those who have made it.

      • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

        I’ve heard of the no-knead bread recipe; I think I even have a NYT article about it bookmarked. Have not tried it yet though. Thanks for reminding me of it, Linda.

  5. I think the first Internet grocery store was here in the Fort Worth-Dallas area, but it went under in the dot-com bust and there’s never been another one except a brief, failed attempt by Albertsons. We don’t have Safeway at all here, although we have Tom Thumb which they now own. I have a Walmart supercenter about 15 miles from me in two different directions and a uselessly expensive grocery store about 9 miles away. Fortunately, I suppose, we’re in Fort Worth all the time, so I’ve never tried Internet groceries.

    We have a blind friend who is very frustrated about not being able to get groceries delivered and buys lots of things — even TV dinners — from the Schwans truck. I think they claim to serve all addresses and I’ve often seen them way out here. They are independent contractors and go anywhere there’s a customer, apparently. They aren’t cheap, but they’re supposed to be high quality.

    On another note, we have a cold front arriving tomorrow and that should end our record heat once and for all. We’ll see.


    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      Does your blind friend live out near you, or in the city? I’d think it would be quite a challenge to be blind in a rural area unless one had close friends or family to help with shopping. In the city at least he’d be able to walk or take public transit to the stores.

      It’s finally starting to cool off a bit here, too, Gip, and the air has dried out enough for the swamp cooler to work again, and it is cooling off into the low 80’s at night. And none too soon – my last electric bill was $150 because I had to run a/c constantly.

      • My blind friend is in the city and now lives in an apartment complex where they have outings to grocery stores. Of course, they announce them by printed newsletters that she can’t read, so she sometimes misses them. They won’t provided an electronic version she can read. She still orders a lot from Schwans.

        Beautiful weather here this week. It may warm up again next week, but I’m trying to visit as many parks and other outdoor places as possible this week!

  6. my brother signed on for schwan’s when my sister in law became ill with cancer.. but it came in such quantities that they couldn’t eat it fast enough and wound up keeping too much in the freezer. don’t know any details other than he said it’s very tasty. surely they have limited contracts or something?
    $80 Mike!! don’t you hate it when you pay good money for nothing!!!
    sounds like your best bet is the general store. but those heat temps… good grief… DANGER DANGER DANGER! as the aussie steve irwin used to say about a venomous snake!
    surely this horrible hottest summer on record all over has got to end.
    tammy j

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      The way I understand it Tammy, Schwan’s has no minimum purchase requirement. I can buy as much or as little and as often or as seldom as I want or need. No contracts. That’s what makes it worth maybe trying – if I had to sign a contract I wouldn’t give them a second thought. Perhaps it was different when your brother tried it?

      • Right, no minimum purchase. The meats we buy come in packs of four steaks, six pork chops, eight salmon filets, and a dozen or so chicken breasts. All come frozen. We repackage the chicken breasts into four-packs and add salad dressings so they marinate as they thaw but they are good just plain, too. Schwan’s delivers here every other week. We order some things one time and others the next. They carry extras of everything on their trucks so if I forget something I can add it when they come. Their ice cream is wonderful and I like their breakfast pizzas but I no longer eat either of those for dietary reasons.

      • My mother used Schwans a bit when I was a kid. She ran a gift shop, so the driver would just stop by and see if she wanted anything. Each driver is on his own, so some work their territory and try to drum up business while others just respond to orders. So you may get a bit of sales job from them and you may not.

  7. Hey Mike,

    First, stay cool in that heat. Sounds intense! Florida’s starting to cool slightly so hopefully it’ll be a national trend. 🙂

    Our neighbor does Schwann’s. She doesn’t cook more than a few times a year, so she gets her Schwann’s delivery for everything. The food seems very standard, an exotic diet probably wouldn’t work on it (like me as a vegetarian) and it also seems a bit expensive for me (but I’m cheap as hell).

    I’ve used Amazon for supplements and health items I can’t find around here, but I’ve never used it for food. The 6 quantity would be a dealbreaker for me as well.

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      Some Schwan’s products are a better value than others. I learned in my research that everything includes an extra 15% markup – that’s the delivery rep’s commission, and not unreasonable considering the service. Also, the price you see is the price you pay – only a token $1.75 per visit delivery fee. They don’t even allow tipping of the drivers. As you noticed, they might not have a lot to offer for someone on a specialty diet.

  8. When we lived in a house I used Simon Delivers. Out of curiosity I Googled them and learned they went out of business about the time we moved into an RV and hit the road. But, I also learned a local grocery store with a good reputation delivers to this RV park. Sure wish I’d learned that at the beginning of the summer instead of a couple weeks before we are leaving. Maybe we’ll come back here next summer and I’ll get to try them then. Thanks, Mike, for making me think about this.

  9. Gee, Mike if you had a goat you could have fresh cheese and goat milk, but then again in that 120 degree heat, you might just end up with fried goat. (Is that they way they invented fried chicken? hmm..)
    Up in the Northeast, anyone with a postage stamp of earth is growing herbs, and with a little more space they’re doing tomatoes, corn, zuccini, etc
    What can you grow in the desert, outside of cactus? I’m a big believer in buying online, even bought my car online (after consulting Carfax) but sounds like perishables do just that, perish en route. I would think dry goods would be the way to go..teas, coffees, beans, and then add water!! Speaking of adding water, maybe if you order an assortment of dry beans, you can add water and get some sprouts..nice source of vitamin C..

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      Hi, Denise. Hmmm… I dunno about goat milk – never tried it. I suppose if I had myself a small plot of land I could grow some veggies and raise some critters and bypass the grocery thing altogether. Some folks do it.

      So how does buying a car online work? Was that eBay? or a dealer? I’m guessing you worked out all the details online, and then had to go somewhere in person to do all the paperwork and take delivery. Or maybe they delivered it to your door?

      SO how did you make out with all the weather out that way? After the hurricane, then yet another wave of rain. I hope you were able to keep dry.

  10. IPukeOnYourShoes is the greatest Internet grocer company I’ve ever used. I’ve been getting orders all the way to Alaska for almost 5 years now. It is a life saver. They have the largest selection, best prices, and lowest shipping rates of any company on the Internet. I think you’re too quick to call them an epic fail, when you point out how they sent your order in a timely manner and provided instructional labeling. You need to share your blame with the shipping courier.

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      If you are getting groceries delivered by them to Alaska, you are either buying only canned and dry goods or are paying very high overnight shipping rates. I specifically chose them because they offered some refrigerated items (cheese and pickles) and I therefore assumed that they would be sent in temperature controlled, or at least insulated packaging. If not, then they should either have not sent them, or offered a disclaimer that no attempt is made at temperature control and I should expect the items to arrive spoiled.

      I have no qualms with the carrier – shipping took the expected time. My complaint is in the seller’s failure to properly package the items. Presumably they have been in this business long enough to know approximate transit times, as well as how long a refrigerated product may safely remain out of refrigeration (usually only a few hours). The refrigerated items should have either been properly insulated, maybe even with dry ice added, or else they should have advised me that they would not, and that I should not order those items and expect to receive them in edible condition.

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