Food News

Amazon Is Ready To Do Your Grocery Shopping, For a Price

I have had some experiences in grocery stores that definitely make me feel like I'll never want to step foot in one again. I'm sure you've been there. You get your heart set on some recipe you've just torn from the pages of whatever glossy food magazine you turned to after Gourmet died. You get to the produce section only to find two of the three fresh herbs you need are missing. No matter. You can omit the chives. And oregano and marjoram sort of taste the the same. Then the meat counter doesn't have the cut you want so after waiting five minutes for your number to be called, you have to work out another substitution with the butcher. Your favorite butter is out of stock. There's a spice you need that is missing, too.

Then as you approach the front of the store, with a basket that only vaguely resembles the original intent of your meal, you see the lines are so long they reach back into the aisles. Then a kid starts to cry. Then squeal. It's 7:30 p.m. and you haven't even started marinating your skirt steak. So you quietly set your basket down on the floor, do your best to walk out calmly, and then hit up your favorite bar for some burgers and wings. Call your friends and tell them dinner is canceled this evening. You've been grocery-store-screwed.

Amazon is betting enough of its customers are sufficiently fed up that they'll fork over $299 to let the mega-retailer pick out their produce for them. The new service, dubbed Amazon Fresh, extends the Amazon Prime concept outside of batteries, books and televisions to the world of perishables. The concept has been tested in Seattle for years and rolled out in LA more recently.

Grocery delivery is nothing new. Peapod has been in the grocery delivery service for more than 20 years, confirming the demand for such services is real. But as many times as I've had a terrible experience in my local grocery store, I can't get into groceries delivered to my door.

My biggest hangup with these services is that you can't see the product you're potentially purchasing. Sure, Amazon can toss up a high-resolution photo of a cantaloupe, but the only way you can tell which one is the ripest is by touching a few of the melons to your nose. There's no way I'm buying fish unless I can look it in the eye, and there's a tactile pleasure if rummaging through the garlic bin looking for that one bulb that's a little firmer than the rest. Experiencing the smells and sights and sounds of a grocery store filled with high-quality and abundant ingredients can be one of the most pleasurable parts of cooking.

Still, if Amazon Fresh takes off in LA, I can see it heading to Dallas soon. A few more trips to Whole Foods, only to find they're out of mint in summertime and all their garlic is sprouting green shoots, and I might be ready to give grocery delivery a try. I'll miss my butcher though. And the guy behind the fish counter playing castanets with the clams.