Caring about the environment is patriotic.
April 30th, 2009
Last month, I wrote about companies that deliver fresh organic produce and groceries directly to your door, and detailed one in particular: Spud, the largest organic food delivery service in North America, serving more than 19,000 customers in major metropolitan areas on the West Coast (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle), in addition to Canada. Well, the folks at Spud kindly offered me the chance to experience their service firsthand, and then relay my thoughts — be they praise or criticisms — to The Red, White, and Green community. So readers, I offer you: the Spud review!
Ordering. Spud has an incredibly engaging and user-friendly website, chock full of tips to help inform its shoppers. There’s a local price comparison sheet compiled every 12 weeks to show how Spud’s prices measure up against organic behemoth Whole Foods, as well as Vons, a Southern California supermarket chain. Spud aims to keep its prices competitive; the first week I ordered, Spud’s produce prices were, on average, 8 percent cheaper than at Whole Foods and 2 percent less than at Vons. There’s also a nifty produce calculator: You enter the number of babies, children, teens, and adults in your household, and it determines how much you need to spend so that every person gets the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables. (For myself and my husband, it’s $30.)
After poring over the website, I decide that for the purposes of my review, I will order groceries that will more likely be prone to error or spoilage — produce, meat, cheese, fresh baked goods, etc. It’s nice to know that Spud offers packaged items like canned aduki beans and organic quinoa, but I trust that those items would probably arrive intact.
First stop, produce. You can order items individually, or customize what Spud calls its Fresh Harvest Box. Here’s how it works: You indicate your preference for each type of produce Spud offers — you’ll never get an item you don’t like, the website claims — and then select the amount of money you’d like to spend. Spud then formulates your Fresh Harvest Box for the week, based on whatever is fresh and available. The preferences take about 15 minutes to initially set up, but are stored in the system for subsequent orders and can be adjusted anytime. There’s also a local buying option; if you select “local only,” all of your produce will come from within 500 miles.
The process of setting up my Fresh Harvest Box is quite fun, actually, and I’m incredibly impressed by the variety; so much so that I even have to Google what a few of them are (yu choi, anyone?). You can even particularize the varietals. Love Gala apples but can’t stand Red Delicious? Click on “apples,” peruse the checklist of nearly 60 types of apples, and select “never give me Red Delicious apples.”
Next stop, groceries. I’m amazed at how nearly every bread is sourced locally; French baguette, in my shopping basket you go! Most of the eggs are local as well, as is the milk, which travels a mere 16 miles from farm to warehouse. Cheese seems a bit pricey, and the chicken is a hefty $13.49/lb, but after reading that this local chicken was formerly only available to the best restaurants in town — Matsuhisa and Spago, for starters — I decide to give it a try. The boneless breasts are smaller than the ones packaged at my local Trader Joe’s, so the price actually ends up being comparable. I figure that with such high quality, I’ll be satisfied with a smaller portion. One neat bonus is that you receive 5 percent off most grocery items you add to a standing order.
When I check out, I notice that in addition to the refundable deposits for the insulated bag and dry ice that will accompany my order, there’s also a 22 cent carbon charge, which is used to buy carbon offsets to make my purchase completely carbon neutral. I think that’s neat, but I wonder if some customers find it a turnoff.
My first delivery. Apartment-dwelling customers have the option of providing Spud with a building key, so that they don’t have to wait around for delivery. I, however, decline this option. Luckily, my order arrives at a prompt 11 am.
The total for the delivery (not including the refundable deposits for the insulated bag and dry ice) is $33.93; not bad, considering the quality of the produce and the convenience of having it delivered to my front door. Everything looks just lovely: the onions are smooth and firm, the strawberries smell like my childhood, and those are two of the most perfect (chicken) breasts I’ve ever seen. And the chicken even turns out to be $8.38/lb, not the $13.49/lb shown on the website (Spud’s error, but at least it’s in my favor).
But wait, where are the eggs I ordered? The printed sheet that accompanies my delivery says my brand is not available. That’s a bit inconvenient, I think. It’s not the end of the world for me, but what if I had been a single mother with two young children? I would have had to make a trip to the store just to go pick up some eggs. One simple remedy would have been to send me an e-mail the day before my order that notified me that my selection was out of stock, and ask me if I’d like a substitution. And why do I have two giant bags of potatoes? I know I selected potatoes as one of my “always include whenever available,” but 8 lbs is a lot for two people to consume in one week. My carrots, too, arrive a bit limp and peaky looking. One day later in the fridge, they’ve turned to rubber.
Where Spud really wins, however, is taste. I almost can’t believe my mouth when I eat dinner that night, prepared simply so that the flavors of the produce and meat shine. The asparagus is some of the best I’ve had — firm, fat stalks that taste just picked — and the chicken, aside from being gloriously tender, tastes fresh and well, chicken-y; this is definitely not the tasteless flesh I’ve come to expect from chicken. My baked russet is wonderfully creamy and sweet inside, and I savor every bite of its earthy, crunchy skin. I don’t think I’ve ever been so satisfied after a meal.
I’m not as lucky with the bread, however. The Spud website says I’ve ordered a local artisan French baguette, but what I bite into, although soft and fresh, tastes more like it’s from a chain grocery store or cheap Italian restaurant. I know what a baguette is, and this isn’t it.
I’m sure there’s a bit of a learning curve with Spud — discovering which brands you enjoy, tweaking your Fresh Harvest Box preferences to ensure you get the veggies you really want — so I figure that some of my concerns will be remedied with my next delivery.
My second delivery. A few days before my next delivery, I change my produce preferences to encourage a bit more variety and make sure another five pounder of potatoes isn’t coming my way. This time, my confirmation email details exactly what is in the Fresh Harvest Box (the confirmation email for the prior week did not), so I’m able to make a few minor adjustments at the last minute.
The total for this delivery (before deposits) is $33.76, and this time around, I’m quite pleased at the produce selection. The garnet yams are huge and virtually unblemished, the grapefruits are heavy and juicy, and the head of cauliflower is a little firm gem. The eggs, at long last, have nary a crack and are still cold to the touch, despite sitting at my back door for an hour before I get home. Everything looks perfection except for the chard, which is wilted and floppy. It seems odd that in both deliveries, I received one item of produce that was less than stellar, given the superior quality of everything else. My only other quibble? I’m surprised, given all of Spud’s hyping of “local farm to you,” that the asparagus is packaged in a plastic container. It seems unnecessary; even at my local supermarket, asparagus comes bunched with a lone rubber band. I was expecting loose spinach, as well; I can get a plastic bag of Earthbound Farm pre-washed spinach any day at Whole Foods.
So, the ultimate question: Would I become a repeat customer? I’m not sure, given that I truly enjoy meandering around Whole Foods and farmers markets on a regular basis (plus it’s good fodder for my blog). But I think that Spud could be a godsend for time-strapped eco- and health-conscious foodies, especially those living in urban areas. I wouldn’t hesitate to order from Spud again, especially if I know I’m in for some particularly busy weeks. After all, with the couple of hours I saved by avoiding my usual distracted-by-free-samples trip to Whole Foods, I was able to write this in-depth review of Spud!
True to Spud’s goal of outstanding customer service, they were kind enough to provide this response: Sorry about the eggs and for some of the beat-up produce. Sometimes mistakes can happen because Spud Los Angeles is a very small and growing operation. That said, there is still no excuse; however, as a consolation, please know that Spud offers a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. When you log in, simply click on the “100 percent satisfaction guarantee” on the home page…there is a link to our “request a refund” page [so] you can let us know what you weren’t happy with and get your money back. No questions or hassle –limp vegetables, bread not good enough, missing eggs — it’s all taken care of. But, of course, our goal is to have no mistakes ever.