Are Organic Produce Clubs Cheaper Than Supermarkets? We Buy Both to Find Out

annie's delivery.jpg
Photos by Eric Barton
This week's delivery from Annie's.

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 Foods.

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 you.
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 large broccoli
1 bunch green onions
1 package yellow pear tomatoes
1 package strawberries
1 zucchini
1 large bunch romaine lettuce (I substituted this for Swiss chard)
2 California avocados
2 ataulfo mangoes
2 cucumbers
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 one).

annie's and whole foods strawberries.jpg
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.

So 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.

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Whole Foods romaine may be organic, but it's also old.

Annie's 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.

In the 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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My Voice Nation Help

I agree with the article writer about most organic food clubs.  A few clubs that I had tried were no better than Whole Foods.  However, My Organic Food Club, the best food club I've found so far, had better savings than the other coops I tried.  The produce is extremely fresh too!  There is one note the reporter fails to mention about food buying clubs.  The gas savings make the food clubs even cheaper and also more convenient than repeated visits to the supermarket.  Otherwise, it's a great article, keep up the good work!

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