San Francisco Bay Area: Choosing an Organic Delivery Service, Spud! Vs. Planet Organics
It all really started at the beginning of 2009. I wish I could remember the blog post I saw that inspired me to try eating seasonally. I’d love to credit it. It kind of woke me up, and as I looked at the fruits and veggies in my fridge, I realized that my fridge had become homogeneous. I always had the same dozen or so of veggies – basically rotating through a very small selection of the same things – and where did they come from? Well, heck, I don’t know… they came from the grocery store!
Don’t get me wrong – I did give some small amount of thought to where my food was coming from. I generally purchased organic whenever possible, and I would make the occasional trip to Specialty Stores or farmer’s markets – and I thought that was enough. Like many people who navigate the grocery store mazes, I walked through the aisles and never thought to look outside of it. Looking back on it, I feel like I was sleep walking, not really aware of the world outside of my fenced in little yard. When I poked my head out over the fence, and discovered the wonderful world of CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture), it was a revelation. Joining Farm Fresh To You, completely revolutionized my cooking habits. Over the course of the last year, I went from having veggies as a side to an entree on most nights of the week, to eating a variety of vegetables at nearly every meal.
Taking baby steps in to the local food, I started with the FFTY box – learning to prepare (and love) all sorts of veggies that I never would have tried on my own. Eventually, I expanded my horizons to outside the Veggie Box, too – scrutinizing my choices of Milk, eggs, grains and legumes, and meat. Which is where I kind of hit a wall. The first couple of times I asked the nice butcher behind the meat counter at our nearby grocery store where this cut or that cut of meat came from, the blank look and the completely non-helpful answer of “From the USA” was enough to drive me away from the meat counter in frustration. Eventually I started avoiding the meat counter entirely, being unwilling to spend ten to fifteen minutes trying to explain that Idaho really isn’t that local, and sending them back and forth to check where this or that cut came from, trying to locate the slim offerings from nearby.
I started dragging myself out of bed earlier on the weekends, trying to get down to the Farmer’s Markets so that I could buy local meats – but I’ll be honest, I love my weekend-sleeping-in-time, and more often than not I would fail to wake up and spend the rest of the week kicking myself. (Who’s brilliant idea is it to have Farmer’s Markets end at noon anyways? I’m just getting up then!) I mean, I’ll admit it – convenience matters. And when it came between convenience (not having to get up or make special trips) versus compromising on my new found local-food principles, I really struggled. So I started looking at Meat CSA’s. Unfortunately, most of them required a big freezer – doing monthly or quarterly deliveries. I don’t have a big freezer (yet). They also had to be picked up from a local drop off spot, necessitating special trips – also a negative. I mean, I’d gotten spoiled with this whole veggie box delivery thing. What I really needed was a home delivery service.
Enter Spud! and Planet Organics. I had picked up this coupon book at a street fair – which offered my $25 off my first purchase at Planet Organics – which was a big motivator in trying them out. To my area, their minimum delivery is $32, so after my coupon I paid like $7.00 for my first delivery. Sweet! (The coupon book, by the way was EcoMetro and I highly recommend it. ) But I also had a friend over at Raising an Omnivorous Child who highly recommended Spud! and has been using it for years. What’s a girl to do? Well – try both, of course. And then post about them in a comparison review. Which is what I’m doing. In a very verbose fashion. Okay, okay! I’m getting to it, geeze!
Both sites carry meat, dairy and other grocery items, and have a focus on their produce box similar to a CSA – except for one big difference. With both services, you have more options than with a traditional CSA – You can either A) Pick and Choose entirely what you want to purchase, managing your entire fruit and veggie purchase B) Set up preferences and allow them to choose your produce, similar to a CSA, and Planet Organics has a third option – you can pick and choose a few things, and then have them finish your order for you with a selection of fruits and veggies. Now, I’ll admit – since I’m still using Farm Fresh To You for my produce box, so I find the produce box options at both Spud! and Planet Organics to be limitedly useful. For me, I tend to use them more for picking out a few things rather than buying the whole box. But I did go through the process of setting up my preferences with them to check and see how each system works.
They both have minimum orders – I believe the delivery threshold may vary for Spud! depending on where you live – my delivery threshold for free delivery is $40, while Planet Organics is $32. They both offer a subscription style produce box, which I’ll talk about in a minute. The biggest difference between the two as far as delivery goes is probably that Planet Organics requires you to commit to a Weekly or Bi-Weekly schedule (you can tweak it and work around it – but it does require managing it to make sure you don’t end up with an extra box of produce). Spud! allows you to place orders on an as-needed basis, an option I quite like. But since I routinely manage my grocery purchases anyways, it’s not a deal breaker for me. The other thing that it’s good to know going in is that both places have returnable delivery boxes. Planet Organics will charge a fee to your credit card if you don’t return the boxes in a timely manner, Spud adds a small refundable deposit on to each purchase for their silver freezer bags (used to keep cold things cold)*.
Okay, so – Produce.
Shopping for produce at Planet Organics – Assuming you want to go with the produce box option, your choices for setting up what fruits and veggies you would like are pretty much 2 bit. Yes or No – well, okay there’s a third option of ‘no preference’ which to me pretty much means “Yes, if that is what is available.” So right – two options. The option that I tend to use most frequently though, is to shop for what I want based on whats available. The produce section is divided up in to subsections – roots, greens, etc… Which makes it easy to locate something specific (assuming it’s in the category you would expect, that is), but less easy if you’re just browsing around to see what’s available. Most, if not all produce items state where they were grown – sometimes even listing the farm name. They update their produce both as available – meaning you can log in and see what’s available this week at pretty much any time.
Shopping for produce at Spud! – Assuming you want to go with the produce box, the options are a little different. I went in to explore the various options, and found that their produce preference set up is pretty awesome. You can ‘weigh’ certain items with five choice – Always, Most of the Time, Some of the Time, Rarely, and Never. You also have the option of variety before local, or local before variety – and also local only. Like Planet Organics, they also have the option to shop on a per-item basis. However, there are no categories beyond fruit or vegetable, so if you’re browsing, you do have to go through the list. There is, however a more limited window of opportunity to see what produce they have this week. (In my area) they post the week’s produce on Thursday – and you have until Sunday in the very early AM to order. If you decide you want to order some Arugula on Monday morning, you’re SOL. You can see a list of items that are ‘usually available’ but not any specifics. And by not any specifics, I mean you can see that they usually have apples, but not whether they’re Granny Smith or Pink Lady, etc…
But to be honest – the produce selection between the two is pretty similar. I wouldn’t even be surprised if they used the same suppliers for the fruits and veggies (I don’t know if they do – just saying I wouldn’t be surprised). Planet Organics has (in my experience) been priced a little better, but otherwise – they both usually have a great selection of seasonal produce available. The biggest difference between the two services really diverges at the ‘other stuff’ they sell – and only speaking for myself, I would have to say that Planet Organics comes out as the clear winner. While Spud Carries a handful of meat cuts and dairy products… Planet Organics carries enough of a selection that I only have to run out to the grocery store maybe once or twice a month to pick up something last minute. Artisan Cheeses, a variety of local and organic meats – even fresh fish. For the meats, Planet Organics carries four to five times as many cuts. For the cheese, it’s nearly eight times.
There are many features about Spud! that I really like – For one, their website is a lot easier to navigate, with a clutter and distraction free interface. The features for weighing produce in their box are tempting – making me almost want to switch from FFTY. And For each order, they will calculate how many miles your food traveled to reach you – albeit kind of loosely. For instance if a supplier for a certain product is nearby, but the items are sourced from further away – the mileage can be a little misleading. I’ve only noticed this discrepancy on pre-packaged foods, however. If you stick to mostly produce, meats, and dairy products then you can really monitor the traveling distance of your food very easily. Spud! also has some great ways of reaching out to their community and being relevant in the more social media world that I live in. Spud! has a twitter account and a Facebook Page, which is pretty kewl for putting a personality to the company. And as a way of giving back to their customers, Spud! has ‘reward points’ that accumulate through your purchases that can later be used for discounts on your groceries. For all these neat features though – quite frankly, they lose me on selection. It might be different if I was using them as my produce service as well, but since I’m not, whenever I go to purchase from them, I find myself struggling to find enough things I want to make that $40 minimum order.
That isn’t to say that all things are rosy with Planet Organics – I’ve had a couple of experiences with them that weren’t altogether terrific, and in the interest of full disclosure I’ll share – probably the one biggest flaw I’ve found with Planet Organics is that whether it’s rotten luck or simply that I’ve ordered from them more often than with Spud!, I have frequently ended up with atleast one item in my order that is out of stock upon delivery. I’m not sure how they manage their order systems, but it would be nice if they would manage their stock a little better to reflect what is actually going to be available come delivery day. I did have an issue with cottage cheese being delivered the day before the expiry date, but I can say that the matter was handled very quickly with the cottage cheese being refunded. I also find their website to be clunky, less than fun to navigate, cluttered, and prone to bugs. Additionally, I find the commentary that is sometimes added to the occasional produce items to be a little off putting sometimes – If I’m shopping for Papaya’s, I’m not really inspired to buy them from someone who opens in the description with “I’m not a big fan of their perfume taste”. (True story)
Since I first posted this comparison, (about two weeks ago) I realized that I may have appeared to be unduly hard on Planet Organics. I shared some bad experiences, but not as many of the good – for what it’s worth, I had been working on the post for a couple of days – I was bound to miss something! For all the minor problems I listed with Planet Organics – they are, to be honest – now my go-to groceries place. I order from them pretty much every week. The few problems I’ve had were resolved quickly, and I feel like any concerns I’ve shared with them have been heard. They’ve also been willing to go above and beyond to help me out. For instance, over the holidays when I needed a Spiral Ham the weekend before Christmas for a party I was throwing, Matt in their Customer Service Department was able to arrange delivery for me – a week before Spiral Hams were supposed to be available. And if I’m being really fair – I will also admit that the fact that they are locally owned and operated does appeal to me. I don’t want to get in to the politics of it, and I am not against venture capitalists per se, but I do feel that at least in reference to food, it’s more in keeping with my particular eat-live local ideals. Thank you for sharing that information with me, Larry. - Del (January 14th 2010)
Neither Planet Organics nor Spud! will end up replacing trips to grocery stores and farmer’s markets entirely for me, unfortunately. They both have a fairly limited selection of bulk and baking needs, and their prices for flour especially tend to run atleast $1-2 more for the same weight and brand at the store. Fortunately, they’ve managed to reduce them dramatically, and for that I’m infinitely grateful. Avoiding those awkward conversations with the butcher alone is worth it’s weight in gold, but providing me with the information I want about where my food is coming from – and conveniently! – and delivered! That is like the super yummy icing on a supper yummy cake.
In a perfect world, I’d love to merge the features and community of Spud! with the selection of Planet Organics, because I really, really like Spud!’s website and their community interaction.
One last little thing – it would be NICE if Spud! and Planet Organics (Farm Fresh To You should listen to this as well!) offered a way to refer people via a referral link. Unfortunately, they don’t. I post about them all the time, and it’d be nice if they would let me link to them in a way that would give me credit for the referral. <sigh>
So, for the record, I’m not associated with Spud! or Planet Organics, however – if you enjoyed this post and would like to use me as a referral – that would be kinda neat. I wouldn’t turn away free groceries. If you decide to try Spud! and would like to use me as your Referrer, my code is #CRSFO-KJESTE. If you enjoyed my post, decide to try Planet Organics, and would like to use me as your Referrer for Planet Organics, you can use the referral code: DELBLOG.**
*In my initial post, I mistakenly said that there was a deposit for the boxes each delivery, when actually it was the freezer bags that require a deposit.
**Updated to add referral code