August 24, 2005
Fresh Direct Comes To Hoboken
Fresh Direct, the online market which specializes in fresh, organic products announced last week that they were delivering to Hoboken residents. From their website, you can browse the various departments from fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, cheese, deli goods, dairy, breads, pastries, full meals, household goods, beverages or even frozen foods. Once you fill up your shopping cart - FreshDirect will arrange delivery to your door, for a $4.99 delivery charge - during the weekdays or weekends, at a specific 2 hour window you specify. FreshDirect claims that their food is fresher than a supermarket because they get their food directly from the source, circumventing the layers of distributors and middlemen that others use. They prepare the food at their own facilities - from roasting green coffee beans, aging their own beef or baking their own breads. There are no retail locations for FreshDirect - which allows them to keep their costs down and even less expensive than your local supermarkets.
Hype? Reality? Somewhere in-between?
So I decided to discover this on my own, and ordered up from FreshDirect last week, on a Wednesday. I went on the website, registered, and first found out that first time users of their site get a $20 coupon towards any fresh food. I ordered up filet mignon, ground veal, chicken breasts, tuna steak, vegetables, pasta, canned goods and some paper products, along with a whole wheat baguette. My focus was to order foods that I would use over the next week to prepare dinners at home. Normally, I stop at the Kings at 333 River St or the A&P on 6th street on my walk home to buy the ingredients for my dinners.
The ease of use on the website was incredible. I was floored at the pictures and information that FreshDirect provides. It was like using Amazon.com - but just ordering up your favorite foods. I also found that I ordered more than I expected. I kept searching on various items, like Prosciutto, real Prosciutto di Parma Ham. They had that from Citterio or Leoncini, for example.
Also what was unexpected was the various qualities of meats that are available. Most supermarkets get "USDA Choice" meats. If you are unfamiliar with the meat grading system, USDA Choice grade beef is tender, juicy and good flavor - but is second in rank to USDA Prime. USDA Prime is normally only available to hotels and restaurants. I don't think any A&P would ever carry USDA Prime. Places like Peter Lugers, Old Homestead and Sparks would only serve USDA Prime to their customers. Premium beef does carry a premium price, and is more expensive. I ordered up two USDA Prime filet mignons, and had them vacuum sealed for freshness. All meat orders on FreshDirect have rubs and marinades available with your purchase. Chicken is available in different forms, from money saving bulk packs or individual orders. Available antibiotic free or grade A chicken, if you prefer.
Simply put - this website caters to everyone. Are you a discerning cook that wants very specific kind of cheeses? Are you simply trying to get some quick meals ready for the week? Are you hoping to find specialty foods? FreshDirect blew me away.
I made arrangements to have the order delivered between 11am to 1pm on Saturday, since I was busy on Thursday and Friday. The FreshDirect truck and delivery person appeared at 12:20pm and delivered 3 boxes and 1 frozen bag. It was brought to my door, I signed the delivery paper and brought the goods inside.
After you open the boxes, you first notice the attention to detail that FreshDirect takes with their packaging. Each box was seperated by the type of goods: One box was boxed & canned items. One box was meats and vegetables, which was still cold from the refrigerated truck. The frozen bag was the frozen bread I ordered. Every meat was seperately wrapped in a styrofoam container, with plastic and then wrapped in another plastic bag. Each meat had a label inside, identifying the product, along with care instructions.
Monday night I grilled up a tuna steak, using the blackened rub from FreshDirect. Tuesday night I made meatballs using the ground veal. Tonight I plan on searing the filet mignons. The food has been delicious, and I am extremely satisfied with what they offer.
My total bill was around $100. I paid a premium, for example, on the filet mignons. I was curious. Was Fresh Direct ripping me off? I took my bill and walked over to the Kings on 333 River Street and decided to compare prices.
Suprisingly - FreshDirect was cheaper than Kings for vegetables, canned goods and household goods - in some cases $1 cheaper! Honestly, I was expecting that the local supermarket would beat FreshDirect. The meats, however, were about the same price - the USDA Choice filet mignons are $17.99/lb at Kings and $18.99/lb with FreshDirect. Kings didn't have USDA Prime, while FreshDirect offers it at 22.99/lb. Chicken was similarly priced, and so was veal.
The final verdict? I think FreshDirect is competitively priced, and the money you spend for the $5 delivery charge would probably cover the costs of the money you save on other products. Plus, I don't like to shop but I am someone who is concered with another person picking out what items i'm going to eat. I found that every fresh item that they sent me were of superior quality than I found at the Kings. The melon I ordered was ripe and not sitting around for days, like at a supermarket. The tuna steak was pink and not "Cryo Frozen Tuna Steak" like they have at Kings for $9.99/lb. I was very pleased with what was sent to me.
When I was leaving the Kings, I saw the Fresh Direct Truck at 333 River Street and walked over to them. I met the same delivery guy who delivered to me, his name was Mir and he has been working for Fresh Direct for 2 months. He told me that since he started in Hoboken that they are delivering about 60 orders a day, using 2 trucks to deliver the goods. I asked him what would be the most important things that Hoboken residents should be aware of when ordering with FreshDirect. Here is what he said:
1. The trucks are refrigerated, along with your food, so make sure if you leave the boxes with your doorman - that they have a refrigerator to store it in.
2. The boxes may leak slightly from the time it takes to get it from the truck to your door. Be aware that some condensation will occur.
3. If a delivery person goes above and beyond - like walking up 4 flights of stairs to deliver food, it certainly would be nice to tip the driver. Mir was very direct to say that he doesn't expect a tip, nor is it expected, but certainly he would be happy to accept one if he worked hard on your delivery.
I thanked Mir for his advice, and asked how he liked Hoboken so far. He said it was difficult with the truck on the narrow streets and the difficult places to find parking, but he liked the residents he has met so far.
I can't think of a good reason why you shouldn't at least try FreshDirect unless you are someone who is so particular about the food they buy that you couldn't contemplate allowing a store to pick out the items you want. Or maybe you are someone who enjoys supermarkets and carting home food to your house. Me? I like sitting at work, surfing on the internet and picking out the different foods I want to eat for the next week - then using the hour I just saved to do more meaningful things. Like writing in my blog.
Posted by Furey at August 24, 2005 12:09 AM
Nice review... Fresh direct has great produce and I've heard from friends in the city that they are super-reliable. So glad they are in Hoboken, and anyone looking at the Kings or A&P selection would likely see a huge difference with Fresh Direct!
Posted by: AWC at August 29, 2005 4:08 PM
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