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Raw Deal: Vegetable Delivery

We check out the services of three online grocers who promise fresh, organic or high-quality vegetables, delivered to your door.
Last updated: 2015-11-09


We ran this story last week about organic food, what it’s all about and whether it’s worth the extra cash and effort. This week, we went ahead and ordered up home delivery from three online food companies that specialize in organic vegetables, or produce that’s been grown with fewer pesticides and chemicals.

There are other home delivery grocers in Shanghai, this is by no means an exhaustive list, just the three of the more popular services in town.


Tony's Farm



Tony’s only sells organic vegetables that they grow themselves on a farm in Datuan, Pudong. They claim it’s the largest organic farm in Shanghai. They deliver from the farm to your door, which cuts out middlemen, packaging and unnecessary transportation. The farm was set up by a former restaurateur, Tony Zhang, to produce “natural, safe, green, organic vegetables.”

Sign up for the service and they’ll deliver a box of vegetables to your door each week. The contents of the box changes every week according to what’s in season and what they’ve been growing. You can also select between a Chinese box and a Western box each week, so you have a little bit of choice about what you get. The box itself is made of recycled material and they ask you to hand it back so they can re-use each one.

Tony’s is a Chinese company and the English section of their website has not been updated since May 2011, but in fact the website ordering works well. We only wanted one box, rather than a regular weekly delivery, so we had to call them to organize that. They were happy to sell us a single box, but we had to speak to the staff in Chinese. The customer service was excellent, though. They delivered on time and sent us texts to let us know their guy was coming and to confirm he’d turned up. All of that was in Chinese, but it was simple stuff.

The one-off box cost us 138rmb. If you sign up for three months of deliveries it works out at 122rmb a week, or less if you sign up for longer. This is what we got:



Seven small green peppers, a thick bunch of asparagus, four small cucumbers, a bunch of celery, five egg plants, some spinach and some random Chinese greens. It didn’t feel like loads for 138rmb, probably enough for two to three meals for a couple of people. If you’re eating out half of the time, this is probably about the right amount of veg to keep in the house for a week.

How did it taste? Good. Fine. To be honest, despite all the talk of organic food bursting with extra flavor, we didn’t really notice much difference in any of the stuff we ordered from these places. Once you cooked the eggplant and juiced up the celery and spinach, it tasted the same as the regular stuff we buy at the wet market. Eat this for peace of mind, to cut down on the chemicals you may be ingesting, for the sake of the planet and to support small local producers, but probably not because it tastes radically different. Others would disagree, and maybe their palates are just sharper than ours.

Other stuff: Everything came wrapped in plastic, which seemed to run contrary to the eco ethos. Maybe that’s necessary to keep everything from spoiling, but we were left with a lot of plastic rubbish after unpacking everything. There was less variety in this box than the others, but we took that to be a reflection of where it came from. This was all seasonal, local stuff. The other boxes had veg sourced from much further afield, all the way across China.




Gusto Fine Foods



This is an online grocery that mainly provides produce to hotels and restaurants, but they deliver to individuals, too. They say they supply every five-star hotel in Shanghai, which sounds a little bold, but there’s no question that they supply to professionals. Everyone we spoke to talked up the quality of Gusto’s stuff, especially their tomatoes, and the two people who run the company, Richard Gelber and Jojo Hu, are clearly very proud of what they sell.

They don’t do the box thing, so we just went online and ordered about 138rmb worth of veg. In fact, we ordered 151rmb because there’s a 15rmb delivery fee on anything below 150. So keep that in mind; we paid a bit more than at Tony’s Farm.

Gusto doesn’t claim to sell 100% organic food, but they do say many of their products are grown using the international standards for organic agriculture. They work with growers across China – the website mentions Yunnan and Shandong – who deliver to Gusto every day at 5am. Gusto then ships out deliveries by 8am.

They say they are a site for families who have “lost all trust in healthy produce in China.” The man behind the site takes more of a confrontational tone in his attitude towards food standards in China and other firms who claim to sell organic. He tells customers: “Maybe it’s time you made the decision to pull your head OUT OF THE GROUND and realize that you CAN buy healthy, that your children are NOT being poisoned at every meal. WE ARE GROWERS – WE ARE MAD – WE ARE DETERMINED – WE WILL NOT STOP TO VOICE OUR OPINION.”

Well, that’s cool, I suppose, being passionate about the produce we put in our bodies. Anyway, this is what we got for our 151rmb:



That is, arugula, a butter head lettuce, a corral red lettuce, a radicchio round lettuce, 500g of beetroots, 500g of carrots, one head of broccoli, two red peppers, 500g of baby potatoes and 200g of button mushrooms. So, much more variety than from Tony’s Farm, but that’s because we picked out all this stuff ourselves and it’s sourced from far and wide. The quality was all good, especially the beetroots and the arugula. The baby potatoes, beetroots and button mushrooms were not things we’d commonly seen in wet markets in Shanghai, so top marks for that, too.

The food was delivered on time with a minimum of fuss. It came in this huge wedge of polystyrene, which sucked a bit, but I suppose it’s ultimately for the good of the food, so I shouldn’t complain.



Overall, top marks. Without the weekly box option, you might end up ordering less often from Gusto, but it would be good if you were preparing for a dinner party or wanted to stock up on harder-to-find goods.


Fields



This place needs less of an introduction. They sell what they call “safe, high quality, delicious food” sourced from growers across China and beyond. Some of their stuff is organic, some isn’t, but it’s all clearly labeled. They have American beef and other imported goods, but say they strive to support local farmers where possible. The focus is on quality, safe produce and they have a slick, English-language website and marketing machine. They also advertise with SmartShanghai, but for this we ordered anonymously to get a clear idea of what’s what.

Fields charges a 20rmb delivery fee for any order under 200rmb, so we ordered 141rmb worth of veg but ended up paying 161rmb for it. And this is what we got:



A vegetable juicing kit, which was three kilograms of carrots, beetroots and celery, 400g of organic water spinach, 500g of organic eggplant, two organic green peppers, a head of broccoli, 200g of snow peas, another kg of carrots and a small pumpkin. Quite a horn of plenty right there.

This came in a couple of bags with minimal packaging. How did it taste? Good, fine. Like vegetables. Nothing knicker-wettingly special, but yeah, tasty veg. And for the money, not bad. Overall, at all three of these places, our cash bought us a small portion of the food we could get at a wet market, but then all this stuff is cleaner and greener and the deliveries are convenient, so you have to make a call on how much that’s worth to you. The range at Gusto and Fields is far better, and you get to choose what you want, but Tony’s was all local and all organic. Plus, we like the commitment of signing up to a box every week, which the other two didn’t offer.

How does this compare to buying organic at supermarkets and health food stores like Green & Safe? We’ll do that next and let you know.

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Cover picture and top from TheGirlbytheSea.com

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