Sunday, November 19, 2017
Cooking

From the food editor: I got groceries delivered to my house with Instacart

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I am not someone who likes to shop online. As Sex and the City's wise newspaper columnist Carrie Bradshaw once said, shopping is a form of cardio.

I also just like going out, being around people, perusing the shelves, being swayed by a sale.

But when I heard that a new grocery delivery service was going to be expanding further in the Tampa Bay area, part of me was very into the idea of not having to stop at the store on my way home.

Instacart, a grocery delivery service that first launched in the Tampa Bay area back in October, expanded to Sarasota and its surrounding cities (Bradenton, North Port, Longboat Key, Parrish, Holmes Beach and Palmetto) in March.

It's a website and smartphone app from which customers can order groceries, from stores including Publix, Costco, Total Wine, Whole Foods, Petco and more. The service is one of many on the market now, including Shipt and Amazon Prime Now.

I grocery shop a lot, especially for the job-related cooking I do weekly. Sometimes I really enjoy perusing the aisles; sometimes I resent it. (Sometimes I go when I am starving and it is dangerous.) I imagine many of you can relate. So on a recent Sunday, I parked it on my back patio, opened my laptop, and ordered about two dozen grocery items. Here's how it went.

First, you put in your address to see which stores are within your delivery range. I wanted to shop at Publix, which was on my list of stores. Victory.

Second, you shop, browsing from a list of products listed with a photo and a price, clicking on items to add them to your cart. Prices are set by the retailers, and overall the trend seemed to be that they were higher than in-store prices. According to Instacart, some retailers offer the same in-store prices, and some have small markups. (That said, it was easier to narrow down sale items and Publix BOGOs.)

Strangely, it was also both easier and more difficult to make compulsive shopping decisions. I wasn't distracted by the aimless wandering that happens in an actual store. But without seeing the product right there in front of me, I found myself putting more in my cart overall. The service was most useful for buying large or heavy products that I did not have to carry myself, things like laundry detergent or a case of bottled water.

After you're done shopping, you select a delivery time, which can be as close as an hour from the time you're ordering or as far out as a week. You can also edit your order up until a few hours before it's delivered, which is useful if like me you always forget to put milk in your cart even though you always just used the last drop.

I opted to have the groceries delivered during an hour window I was set to get home one Monday evening, and they were indeed sitting on the front porch when I walked up, in plastic Publix bags as if I had bought them myself.

I got everything I ordered, except for a bottle of orange juice; I placed one brand in my cart and got a different but very similar brand delivered. Instacart said this happens when stores are out of stock; shoppers make a judgement call on getting a good replacement for those items. If the replaced item isn't something you want, Instacart will offer a refund.

There is a fee for the service — for $14.99 per month (or $99 per year) you become an Instacart Express and are not subject to any delivery fees — and a $10 order minimum that would probably prevent me from using it all the time, but I did feel very efficient and fancy obtaining my groceries in this way.

Now I just have to figure out how to make up for that day's cardio.

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