Buying Groceries Online During a Pandemic
When the pandemic began, Daniel and I hunkered down, almost completely. We didn’t even go grocery shopping outside the house for the first month of lockdown, instead relying on our very generous neighbor to shop for us.
We’re an immune suppressed household, and Covid spread is still full of unknowns. With that in mind, I tried to find a few delivery options that would hold us over until we could find a more reliable local grocery option. While our neighbor was shopping twice a month, there were major shortages of staple goods, like toilet paper and ramen (yes, we eat a lot of ramen), that we needed to have at least some supply of.
With a lot of time spent at home, I started researching. In early April, it seemed that the only grocer with toilet paper in stock was Public Goods. And, score!, they also had (some kind of yuppie) ramen, so I placed my first order.
After that, I signed up for Imperfect Foods (formerly Imperfect Produce). Imperfect Foods operates on an overstock model, which means they sell both produce and other food items that are leftover or second tier in the supply chain. Originally, they claimed to buy up all the “ugly” produce that grocery retailers can’t sell. But agricultural scientist, Dr. Sarah Taber, recently debunked the “ugly produce won’t get sold” myth in a series of tweets that outline the complexity of our food system.
While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend ugly produce startups as an “ethical” option for food, I signed up because Imperfect Foods offers a generous discount for low income households (that Daniel and I qualified for) and delivers fresh food to our home, making it much easier to avoid the crowds of the grocery store (now I only go to a physical grocery store every 2-3 weeks, just for prescriptions and staple items).
Below, I’ll outline a bit about each company, and what I like to shop for.
Public Goods Review
Public Goods specializes in pantry staples, like pasta, canned goods, and snacks. They also carry household items, like hand sanitizer, hand towels, candles, and sponges. Their whole schtick is direct-to-consumer, house-brand simplicity with a focus on quality.
As I mentioned, I initially purchased from Public Goods because I needed toilet paper. They sell bamboo toilet paper, which claims to be more sustainable than conventional TP, but I’m not entirely convinced by that selling point. While I did not continue to stock up on TP, I did find some items I absolutely LOVE from Public Goods.
Get 15% off your first purchase with code, STYLEWISEPGA
- Almond Catuccini
- Sesame Paste Ramen
- Resusable Food Wraps
- Granola Bars (currently out of stock, but delicious!)
- No animal testing
- Commitment to sustainable sourcing
- Bioplastic, recycled, and low waste packaging
- Zero waste-related items available
- Two-week Free Trial, then $59/year for access
- Free shipping over $45
- Get 15% off your first purchase with code, STYLEWISEPGA
Imperfect Foods Review
Imperfect Foods is not a typical subscription box or farm share. Instead, you’ll sign up weekly or bi-weekly for a small, medium, or large box. The box will then be auto-populated with available produce and you can pick and choose what you’d like to keep in it. You can even tell Imperfect Foods what types of items you never want to receive in your box (I eliminated carrots, for instance).
After you’ve selected the basics, you can shop for additional produce and other items. Merchandise availability varies from week to week, but I like to buy oat milk, brown rice, coffee, and overstock meat items, like salmon burgers, when they’re available.
The quality of Imperfect Foods across the board has been great. Some produce is a little uglier than normal, but the flavor and ripeness has been more consistent than my local grocery stores. Price-wise, Imperfect Foods is competitive with local grocers, and the low-income discount makes it even less expensive.
I’ve received four orders so far, and here’s a sampling of what I’ve received across a few boxes: corn, apples, mangoes, tomatoes, onions, peaches, oat milk, brown rice, lamb tamales, salmon burgers, Italian sausage, coffee beans, cucumbers, salsa, tortilla chips.
- Imperfect Produce recycles or reuses packaging during non-Covid times.
- For now, the box is recyclable
- Commitment to sustainable agricultural practices
- Choose a box size and delivery frequency.
- Customization opens up 5 days before delivery, and stays open for 3 days.
- Your order is delivered on a region-specific date.
- Skip anytime, or change the cadence of deliveries.
Get $10 toward your box with this link.
Grocery buying is a personal choice, as is shopping in person during a pandemic. Beyond choice, it’s also a privilege to choose certain options over others. Due to our household risk, I am glad to have a few stop-gaps for groceries so I can limit my total in-person shopping time. After the pandemic ends (prayers and crossed fingers that it’s soon), I will likely reduce online grocery purchases, but I still plan on purchasing from both Public Goods and Imperfect Foods.
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Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.