Could Become Your Go-To Grocer?

Amazon Expands Grocery Delivery Service To Los Angeles Area
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesAmazon Fresh is just one entry in the fast-growing business of online ordering and delivery of fresh food.
The grocery store wars are upon us.

For centuries, Americans who wanted to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables have had to hop in the car (or horse and cart) and head out to the supermarket (or general store) to fill their shopping carts. More and more often today, though, shoppers are getting the option to fill "grocery carts" online -- and have produce delivered right to their front door.

Two years ago, (AMZN) introduced us to AmazonFresh, the e-commerce giant's Seattle-only pilot project to deliver groceries in and around the city. Amazon soon expanded the service to cover the metropolis of San Francisco, and today says it delivers fresh groceries (with a $50 minimum order) in "select zip codes" within Southern and Northern California, the Pacific Northwest, New York City and Philadelphia. Amazon doesn't provide a map or a detailed listing of locations serviced, but if you live in any of these vicinities and think you might have a shot at signing up, there's a tool you can use to check if they'll deliver to your address.

Meanwhile, other companies are moving fast to beat Amazon to the punch -- and to your doorstep. Kroger (KR) subsidiary Harris Teeter, for example, and the well-known Peapod, both offer grocery delivery services from their brick-and-mortar stores. Walmart's (WMT) Asda subsidiary is rolling out a similar service in geographically compact Great Britain. And back on this side of the pond, perhaps the biggest surprise of all: (OSTK) wants to deliver your groceries.

From Stale Retail to Fresh Ideas

The idea of buying fresh produce from a company called "Overstock" seems a bit strange, but it may be best to think of as a holding company for two very different businesses.

One of these businesses, the most famous, sells retail dry goods -- books, shoes, trampolines -- over the Internet. But a new business under Overstock's corporate umbrella is called Farmers Market, and its stock in trade is "the freshest produce ... [from] farmers and growers in your area who can deliver right to your doorstep."

Overstock actually began rolling out Farmers Market late last year, and expanded the service again in July. Says Overstock, it's a way to buy from local farmers, and to get "products close to you delivered to you."

Like Amazon, Overstock's Farmers Market has limited geographic coverage at present. But already, it seems to be outrunning Amazon in getting new service rolled out. Management set a target of reaching "70 percent of the U.S. population by the end of last year." It's unclear if it's met that goal yet, but according to Overstock's map, Farmers Market is delivering fresh fruit and vegetables in 24 markets across the nation. And according to its latest press release, the service actually extends to 35 states. From San Francisco to Portland, Maine, and from Milwaukee, Wisconsin down to ... really, just about the entire state of Florida, Overstock has apparently lined up farmers ready and willing to bring produce right to your front door.

In a sharp marketing move, Overstock takes an opposite tack from Amazon on customer declensions. Whereas Amazon politely declines to deliver to most zip codes entered into its search box, if Overstock doesn't have local farmers signed up in your area, it refers you to its "Farmstand" products instead. There, you can order an array of less perishable groceries shipped to you through ordinary package delivery. These might include apple pies or fruit baskets, raw honey or gourmet cheese. Amazon sells many of these same goods. Overstock is using Farmers Market as a way to remind you that it sells them, too.

What It Means to You

As for the lucky few to whom Overstock's actual Farmers Market also delivers, here's how it works. Enter a zip code, and you'll be presented with a list of "farmers in your area" who've signed up for the program. For each farmer, Farmers Market will tell you what day(s) of the week they deliver, what products, and at what prices.

At present, the pickings look slim -- much slimmer than the many products offered via AmazonFresh in the zip codes it services. A quick survey of Florida, for example (the most extensively covered state), suggests that with Farmers Market, there may be only one seller covering the whole state: "My Organic Food Club."

This seller offers three products, of which none receive particularly glowing reviews overall. The most reviewed product, a "produce box" priced at $60 and reviewed by four shoppers, is variously described as "extremely overpriced for what you get," and containing fruit that "was soft or bruised" by some shoppers, but also "awesome" and "amazing" by others. Viewed in the most charitable light, this suggests that selection is meager at this still-early date, and quality spotty.

That said, relatively speaking, this is an early date in Overstock Farmers Market's rollout -- and for early adopters willing to roll the dice and hope for the best, at least Overstock is offering them a grocery delivery service in Florida (as well as many other locales). For the time being, that's more than we can say about AmazonFresh.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith does like fresh fruit, but doesn't like hurricanes. Should he move to Florida? Decisions, decisions. He doesn't own shares of any company named above.

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