Are Organic Produce Clubs Cheaper Than Supermarkets? We Buy Both to Find Out
This week's delivery from Annie's.
Photos by Eric Barton
Two weeks ago, I signed up for Annie's Organic Buying Club, which works under the slogan: "making organics affordable for everyone." Annie's is part of a trend these days, with companies popping up across the country that promise to deliver fresher and cheaper organics than your supermarket.
So, is it cheaper? After getting my delivery this week, I drove to Whole Foods, where I bought the same stuff. The answer: Annie's beat Whole Foods. Just barely.
But there's also the issue of quality, and some of the items from Annie's were far better
than what was available at Whole
First, the backstory. Annie's "delivers" its produce at
drop-off spots around South Florida. I picked up my box at the MIA
furniture store at Federal Highway and Sunrise Boulevard
in Fort Lauderdale. It's the store that often has "going out of
business" signs in the windows on the weekends. The Annie's rep hangs
out in what looks like an old storeroom near the back, a storage shelf
full of boxes waiting for pickup. It feels less like a produce delivery
and more like a pickup spot for a drug mule.
Each week, the
boxes of stuff changes depending upon what's available from Annie's
buyers. From Annie's website:
Our boxes are always a
generous mix of seasonal fruits and vegetables. We include basics that
we always need and at times may include something that might be new to
As for Annie's sources, this isn't exactly a
farm-to-table-style co-op. Most of the fruits and vegetables carry
stickers explaining that they were grown in Mexico, even though Florida
is full of produce farms.
This week, I bought what's called a
"half share," or $35 worth. Here's what it included:
1 asparagus bunch
1 bunch green onions
1 package yellow pear
1 package strawberries
1 large bunch
romaine lettuce (I substituted this for Swiss chard)
2 California avocados
2 ataulfo mangoes
4 purple potatoes
With my box from Annie's in the
trunk, I drove two miles north to the Whole Foods on Federal. Now, I
should note here that I passed a Publix along the way, but from tasting
Annie's stuff last week, I knew produce from Publix wouldn't stack up
(the pears in last week's box sent juice down my arm when I bit into
Annie's and Whole Foods apparently share at least one distributor.
Whole Foods had most of Annie's organics,
right down to the purple potatoes. What it didn't have were the pear
tomatoes, the avocados, and the green onions. So after checking out with everything
else, I asked a manager to look up the prices for the rest. Chuck from
produce tallied up the rest. My total bill: $40.30.
That's $5.30 more.
how'd they compare in quality? Some items were identical. The
strawberries were the exact same brand, in the same package. Both had
pineapples that were too green to eat yet. And broccoli? I'm no hater,
but it's hard to tell the difference between the two.
Still, Annie's beat Whole Foods on several items. The romaine at Whole Foods
was a sorry sight, with brown on the edges and spots of rot in the
center. If I didn't have a reason, I wouldn't have bought the stuff.
Whole Foods romaine may be organic, but it's also old.
cucumbers and zucchini were also far superior. The zucchini still had
the bits of fuzz on the tops, like the ones my grandmother picked from
her garden when I was a kid. The cukes from Annie's were crisper and
fresher, while the ones from Whole Foods lacked that same fresh snap
when I bit into a slice.
Whole Foods was out of the mangoes,
but it's hard to imagine fruit that could top the ones that came from
Annie's. They weren't full of water like the ones I've bought before. Instead, they had an intense flavor, a tartness that makes
you pucker and a sweet finish that makes you want more.
end, it was clear Annie's beat Whole Foods on quality and price.
What it comes down to then is whether you're willing to pay for a random
box of produce every week and make a trip to pick it up at a random drop-off spot. But did I tell
you about that mango?
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