Four local home delivery services you need to try
Home-delivered food options are more diverse than ever, from stalks of celery to boxes of cupcakes. Even better? Prices tend to be comparable to brick and mortar markets, or even beat them. In some cases, the convenience is balanced out by delivery fees and minimum orders – but that means the businesses might stick around this time, as they join the field with profits and customer service in mind rather than IPOs.
"I always joke about our business plan being pretty solid, knowing that people are going to eat three times a day for the foreseeable future," said Andrew Stout, CEO of Carnation-based Full Circle Farm.
To Stout, 1990s home-delivery failures looked like unrealistic business decisions in the high-tech bubble, rather than a fundamentally flawed idea. "It's hard to imagine that a company can blow through a couple of billion dollars …" he said. "It's not that the market is not there."
Of course, home delivery didn't start with the invention of the computer mouse. For the long view, we talked with the folks at Smith Brothers Farms, which has ridden out the ups and downs of the field since the days of the old-fashioned milkman. Home milk deliveries were the norm until the 1950s, when both refrigeration and supermarkets became commonplace, sales and marketing manager Brian Soudant told us. The demand has waxed and waned since, but the current surge of interest came as families needed more convenience, households relied more on two working parents, and shoppers became more interested in asking questions about the origins of their food. "People are more focused on where they're buying their food from," Soudant said. "How is it being made? What are the ingredients?"
Here's a sampling of four different arenas in the many home-delivered edibles now available in the Seattle area.
THE MILKMAN: Smith Brothers Farms
The Kent-based business pasteurizes and packages milk from Washington herds for home delivery, dropping the milk on doorsteps within 48 hours after it was packaged. Fans on their Facebook page call the milk richer and tastier than mass-market brands, as it's pasteurized at lower temperatures than the ultra-pasteurization most national brands use. "You've turned us into milk snobs," one customer wrote. Smith Brothers also manufacturers and delivers most dairy products, such as half-and-half and sour cream, and also delivers a selection of other Northwest staples – eggs, Greek Gods yogurt, Stumptown cold brew, and more.
Nuts and bolts:
Deliveries are weekly, with a minimum order of one product per week. There's no delivery fee. Most customers create a standing weekly order, which can be changed up until the day before delivery. Most delivery trucks carry extra items for last-minute needs. smithbrothersfarm.com
THE GREENGROCER: Full Circle Farm
For Andrew Stout, CEO, an expansion to home-delivered fruits, vegetables and other products seemed a natural extension of his business at farmers markets and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs. "Over the years, we've worked out better ways of having a direct connection with consumers. Taking it to your door is just one iteration further down that path," he said.
The weekly delivery box of fresh goods includes "whatever we can grow that's of great quality and seasonally available" on Full Circle's 400-acre farm. Other products come from farther afield, ranging from Eastern Washington stone fruit to California winter veggies, and even imports like bananas and mangos from selected overseas companies "if our missions align."
Nuts and bolts:
Deliveries are weekly, with an option of two box sizes, a "regular" or "family"-size box, with the option of changing the box contents to fit your preference, or adding extra items. Puget Sound boundaries range from Lynnwood to Kent (Full Circle also has a delivery service in Alaska); check the Web site to see which zip codes are included. fullcirclefarm.com
THE BIG BOYS: Amazon Fresh
Amazon.com, a former investor in Homegrocer.com, quietly re-entered the market through a pilot program in Mercer Island in 2007. Amazon Fresh now boasts a huge selection, including meat, seafood and flowers. Oh, and being a division of Amazon.com, you can also get books, diapers, an SLR camera, or a tool kit brought to your door along with your eggs and milk.
Amazon's groceries aren't discounted the way books are, but prices are competitive, and it's possible to save big by buying in bulk. The Amazon Fresh site includes produce ratings, meant as the virtual equivalent of the guy in the grocery store who cuts you a slice of crisp apple to sample or steers you away from the browning lettuce. It's a nifty idea, but in practice, so many items won a 3 or 4 rating (out of 5) that it wasn't enormously helpful.
Nuts and bolts: Deliveries are available any day, with free delivery on orders over $35. Orders placed by 10 am can be delivered in time for dinner; order by 10 pm and have items in time for the breakfast table. amazonfresh.com
THE BAKER: Trophy Cupcakes
As Trophy Cupcakes has expanded to new locations, it's increased the dangerous "Trophy Zone" that draws us in to sample fudgy frosting or irresistible seasonal specials or dainty babycakes whenever we're within a few blocks. Now the zone knows no boundaries, as Trophy has started up home deliveries with a courier service. Why? "What's nicer than a box of delicious cupcakes showing up on your doorstep?" said owner Jennifer Shea.
The service has been a hit since it was introduced a few months ago. Many initial orders were for office parties, but Shea has also seen a lot of deliveries to dorm rooms – not from students, but from their parents. "We love getting those calls … ‘It is my son's birthday and I usually make him cupcakes every year, and now that he is away I want to have some delivered to him.'"
Nuts and bolts: Custom cupcakes are available (e.g., personalized or with decorations or cards). Delivery fees are based on zip code and on how fast the order is needed, averaging $15 for most next-day orders in Seattle and Bellevue. The delivery area is from Everett to Tacoma. trophycupcakes.com
Rebekah Denn is a Seattle-based writer and mother.
Editor's note: This updated article was originally published in September of 2010.