FOOD WARS: I tried a bunch of different grocery delivery services, and one is way better than the others

Food delivery services are a rapidly expanding business, whether it’s entire meal kits delivered to your door or take-out from your Uber driver.

One of the most competitive fields though is grocery services, which let customers do all their shopping online and then schedule a time for their food to be dropped off at their home, cutting out all the bag lugging and time spent waiting in line.

We decided to compare the top three — Instacart, AmazonFresh, and Fresh Direct — to see which one had the best food and offered the best deal to customers.

Keep reading to see what we thought of each service, or scroll all the way to the bottom for the winner.

Instacart

Delivery fee: $US3.99 flat fee or $US5.99 for same hour service for orders over $US35

Same day delivery? Yes.

Prices: $US$US

Minimum order: $US10

Instacart is really easy to use with a super user-friendly website. Its design is simple, featuring plain pictures of the food against white backgrounds and a list of what you already bought on the side.

What really sets Instacart apart from the competition is the same-day delivery option. For orders over $US35, two-hour or same-day scheduled delivery is a flat $US3.99 fee and $US5.99 for an hour delivery. If the delivery is under $US35, the delivery will cost more: $US7.99 for two-hour or scheduled delivery, and $US9.99 for deliveries within an hour. Customers are also encouraged to tip the delivery people, which is not included in cost.

Because Instacart orders food from your local grocery stores and brings it to your door, the cost of my groceries is the same as the Fairway or Whole Foods near my apartment. But because these are New York grocery prices, those stores are far more expensive than the offerings from AmazonFresh (though still cheaper than Fresh Direct.)

What really sold me on Instacart is the customer service. When I checked out, I was asked if a certain selection wasn’t available in the store, would I care more about the brand or about the price? This is a really great question to ask — I didn’t personally have a preference, but some people might.

It was also cool to see it in practice. My Instacart shopper texted me that they couldn’t find the brand of dressing I wanted and that a different kind of strawberries looked more ripe. This is just fantastic customer service — I felt like I was texting my roommate at the grocery store and not a stranger.

My order was right on time and came in reusable white bags that you can keep to use for future grocery runs or return the next time you use Instacart.

Though all the produce arrived unharmed, my ice cream had melted by the time it reached the door.

AmazonFresh

Delivery fee: Free with Amazon Prime membership ($US90/year)

Same day delivery? No.

Prices: $US

Minimum order: $US50

AmazonFresh’s home page looks very similar to the regular Amazon homepage, but with food instead of Kindles and televisions. My favourite part of the website is the recipe section where each recipe has an ingredient list to directly order from. Though Instacart also has its own recipe section, Amazon’s has a lot more variety.

Another feature I liked about AmazonFresh is the option to shop neighbourhood specialty stores as well as a section of “meal kits” from local restaurants. Though the selection here isn’t quite as impressive as I was hoping it would be, I could see AmazonFresh expanding on it in the future.

Ultimately, AmazonFresh has good, cheap produce. It is easily the cheapest of the three services and has the most variety of spices, salad dressings, condiments, and breads, plus household, beauty, and health products. Basically if you needed eggs as well as dish soap but didn’t have time to run to the store, Amazon Fresh would be your go-to service.

AmazonFresh doesn’t have same-day delivery service like Instacart, but it does have a next-day scheduled option. My food arrived with the delivery guy on time and in temperature-controlled bags, which I really appreciated. No soupy ice cream here!

The biggest negatives for AmazonFresh by far are that you must be a prime member to use the service and your minimum subtotal for checkout is $US50. This wasn’t hard to meet given that Amazon also sells household and beauty products, but I was still pretty shocked by the required threshold.

Fresh Direct

Delivery fee: $US6.99

Same day delivery? No.

Prices: $US$US$US

Minimum order: $US30

Before I used Fresh Direct, I had been receiving coupons for months under my apartment door, so I was already intrigued. The website is pretty cluttered, but it covers a lot of variety, from flowers and wine to the regular grocery fare.

The two best features of the website are the reorder button, which fills up your cart automatically without having to browse around, and a “deals and coupons” section, which neither Instacart or AmazonFresh have.

But Fresh Direct definitely needs that deals and coupons section. The prices here are the most expensive of the three grocery services, from the produce and products to the $US6.99 delivery fee. A lot of the price difference is because Fresh Direct doesn’t allow customers to buy some produce one-by-one. I couldn’t order just one apple for instance — I needed to order four.

I also wasn’t impressed with the variety. Fresh Direct doesn’t have as many ice cream flavours, spices, condiments, or salad dressings as Instacart or AmazonFresh. I wasn’t sure if they had sold out of certain options or if they simply didn’t carry them to begin with.

The most annoying part about Fresh Direct in my opinion is that delivery times can “sell out.” I couldn’t order my food between 7-9 p.m. because too many people had already selected that time.

When my food arrived, it was packed carefully in boxes that protected my eggs and produce from being damaged, which I appreciated. It wasn’t temperature-controlled however, so my ice cream and milk were both warm. I also didn’t love that after ordering groceries I was left with two cardboard boxes to break down instead of reusable plastic or paper bags.

So, how do they compare?

Produce from amazon fresh fresh direct and instacart

Megan Willett/Tech Insider
Fuji apples from Instacart (left), Fresh Direct (center), and AmazonFresh (right).

PRODUCE

Winner: AmazonFresh and Instacart. I wasn’t impressed with Fresh Direct’s produce at all: The tomato I ordered was bruised on the bottom, the grapefruits (I had to order two) looked a little weird, and the strawberries were the first to go bad.

DELIVERY

Winner: AmazonFresh. I loved that AmazonFresh uses temperature-controlled delivery bags so that things like ice cream and milk don’t go bad in transit. AmazonFresh also has an option for “unattended delivery” for anyone who wants their groceries left at their doorstep or with their doorman.

Instacart would be a close second here since I love their reusable bags and prompt delivery. I also received a text that they were heading to my apartment so I wasn’t continually wondering when they would arrive.

PRICES

Winner: Instacart. Technically AmazonFresh is the cheapest of the three, but the fact that you must have a prime membership and meet a $US50 minimum every time you order is a major let down.

Fresh Direct is easily the most expensive of the three services, charging an average of 52% more than AmazonFresh, according to the Wall Street Journal.

My verdict: Instacart!

It was a close call between AmazonFresh and Instacart, but ultimately, the customer service at Instacart won me over in the end. The produce was also the freshest of the bunch since it was coming directly from my local grocery store and the delivery fees were affordable.

Though I probably won’t be ditching my local Gristede’s anytime soon, I definitely see the appeal of grocery store delivery services. And if I’m ever stocking up on heavier items that I don’t feel like lugging home with me, I know exactly who I’ll turn to.

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