Despite writing about food technology (and the evolution of food retail in particular), I held off on getting my groceries online. I live close enough to a grocery store that going isn’t a hassle, and I actually like seeing and touching the fruits and veggies and proteins before I buy them.

And I’m not alone. Consumer surveys show that the inability to see items like produce before purchasing is a big barrier to online grocery shopping adoption. An eMarketer survey earlier this year found the 96 percent of U.S. internet users still primarily shop for groceries in store.

But friends of mine told me how much money they had saved by switching to online shopping (fewer impulse purchases). Saving money is always intriguing, so that got me thinking about making the switch myself.

This decision was bolstered when I spoke with a grocery startup CEO who told me that based on his experience, the produce ordered online was actually better because the pickers who work at the store actually knew how to pick the freshest fruits and vegetables. They were professionals and what I was giving up by shopping in person would be made up by their experience.

So I figured now was a good a time as any to get my groceries online. A Safeway near me offered delivery, so I logged on and mostly stuck to the basics: milk, eggs, bread — and threw in a bunch of bananas (well, “six” since the amount had to be precise).

The order was placed, the delivery window set. The truck arrived on-time and the driver was professional. Everything I ordered was there, even the six bananas, which…were emerald. I’m not talking about just up by the stem; they were forest green from top to bottom. The picture above is of the bunch I received after putting them in a paper bag to hasten the ripening overnight.

If I was ordering by mail, shipping underripe fruit would make more sense. You don’t want it bruised during the shipment and it will take a couple days to reach its destination. But Safeway is just up the road, the time in transit is hours (at most, depending on the delivery route), not days.

This isn’t meant as a screed against Safeway, but what it told me was that my order was just a series of boxes for its employees to check as it was fulfilled. Milk? Check. Eggs? Check. Bananas? Check — no matter what kind of shape they were in. At no point in the fulfillment did someone go “Hey, these bananas look inedible” and swap them out.

I realize this is a very small sample size, and perhaps my delivery was an outlier. But if this is my first experience, it could the same for other n00bs. And it’s worth bringing up because a lot of money is being poured into food delivery startups, and companies like Kroger are investing heavily in automating grocery delivery. But what good is flawless last mile logistics when what’s being delivered can’t be eaten?

Perhaps a better way to go is ordering online and doing curbside pickup. At least then I can get out, inspect the produce and return anything that doesn’t look good.

What’s your experience with grocery delivery? Do you do it regularly? Have you had any issues? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Wait! It’s not like the bananas are never going to be ripe to your preference! This is actually my fear, I don’t want yellow bananas, they only get eaten in this house while they’re still green. I think pre-ripe bananas make perfect sense for deliver.

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