Monday, October 5, 2015

Food and Booze Online in Toronto

I recently tried to help a sick friend with some grocery purchases. She is renting and has some weird arrangements with her landlord and, long story short, I ended up knocking and messaging her for almost 1h before finally being able to get in. I want to help my friend, but I'd rather not repeat this experience, so I decided to investigate on her behalf the ways one can order food in Toronto, both groceries and cooked food.

grocery-delivery-torontoNow that just closed its doors after 3 years (and is not loading), I first looked at MenuPalace and UberEats. The latter offers a “curated menu” while the former has some interesting Top 10 lists compiled for when you need inspiration.

If you do not want to cook (who can blame you?) and want a larger selection than the above, the services below will deliver your favourite restaurant food at your door.

The stickers I notice most often when going out are Just-Eat (who even have an app, offering $20/30min) and OrderIt, both present in several large cities. The service is free (more like “included”, or up to $6.95 at OrderIt) for these guys, but not for Hurrier, a bike-courier for those who can afford it: $5.50 flat rate, $2/km for delivery leg of the trip. Hurrier is also limited in the delivery zone (S of Dupont, Keele to DVP) and hours (M-F 11am-9:30pm, SaSu 12pm-9:30pm).

Other options are So Hungry and (reports of waiting in excess of 1h with no apologies for the latter).

However, not everybody (myself included) wants to eat cooked food. Some of us either cannot afford to pay someone to cook for us, or we feel that cooking for ourselves yields better outcomes in terms of health and taste.


Why is the grocery online shopping behind USA when some of the poster-boys of this growing industry are Canadians?

Here’s a quote from an article signed by Chris Powell (cb-cpcg).

Nilam Ganenthiran, Toronto-based vice-president of business development and strategy at Instacart, says the Canadian grocery shopper now looks much like the American consumer did when the company debuted, in 2012: increasingly comfortable with online ordering, and willing to trust people hired to fulfil a grocery order. While he won’t provide specifics, Ganenthiran says Instacart is poised to launch in Canada later this year or in early 2016.

“I really think Canada’s at a tipping point, because the consumer need is no less prevalent,” he says. “In fact, it’s potentially greater, especially in winter months. We are extremely bullish on Canada.”

University of Waterloo graduate Apoorva Mehta launched Instacart, in San Francisco, with zero marketing or PR. Within a year, says Ganenthiran, it was being used by 1.5% of San Francisco households. This despite the fact that he admits its initial selection and price “wasn’t great.”

“What it did have was the fact it was solving a very real pain point in the hearts and minds of consumers,” says Ganenthiran. “It was giving customers two hours of their life back for a pretty low cost.” That cost can come two ways: some delivery companies slightly inflate the price for grocery items (as Urbery does, plus a delivery fee) and/or charge delivery fees from $3.99 to $9.99 (as in Instacart’s case).

He says Instacart’s Canadian rollout will likely differ from the U.S. because three major chains–Loblaw, Sobeys and Metro–essentially control the entire industry. “The level of sophistication in Canada is really quite high,” he says. “Retailers understand [the business] intimately, and they’re ready to go at it aggressively.”

GroceryGateway has a $45 minimum order and adds a $9.95 delivery fee. It is currently owned by Longo’s and has possibly the biggest mindshare among potential consumers. Through a partnership with SteamWhistle, they can also deliver beer on a next day basis (9am-9pm), for $1.50 fee for a 12-pack of bottles or 6-pack of cans, or $0.50 for a single tallboy of pilsner.

The recently launched InstaBuggy is here to challenge all that. You can order from their website or their app and pick the store, with delivery within the hour, using both “crowdsourcing” and its own vehicles. They charge customers a $9.99 fee for orders from $10 to $39.99; a $5.99 fee for orders $40 to $59.99; and delivery will be free for orders $60 or more.

Another new startup, Urbery will deliver in 3 hours or less, buying from a variety of grocers. Apparently, they had a rather humiliating rejection at Dragons’ Den. Delivery is free for orders over $64.99, $5.99 for $40-$64.99, $9.99 under $39.99. For alcohol, they charge $10 flat fee for 3 bottles + $1/each additional bottle, or $2 for each case (plus flat fee). Additionally, they have a mark-up of about 15%.

Another lesser known service is RealFoodToronto, charging $9.99 for all orders less than $250 and a 12h delivery window.

MrCase delivers office supplies as well as a set number of fresh fruits and vegetable by the case. There does not appear to be a clear timely promise: “There is a delivery fee of $4.00 for orders of $75.00 or more. A $7.00 delivery fee will be applied to orders under $75.00. Any order placed before 11:30 am may be delivered the next business day or you may choose a future delivery date.”

Grocery Market has a rather difficult to parse website. There seems to be a $50 minimum order, with $9.99 for next-day orders, $5.99 discounted and $12.99 for same-day orders.

One criticism the aforementioned startups had to endure is that they are a copy of InstaCart, a US startup that has yet to expand to Canada, that does precisely that: crowdsourcing your grocery shopping list.

Other competitors: Loblaws click-and-collect ($30 minimum, p/u fee $3-5 + $10 no p/u) as well as Sobey/ currently delivering only in Quebec; Metro is experimenting with similar service consisting currently only of party trays.

Other future services may include Walmart-To-Go, Amazon Fresh, FreshRush, currently piloting on the West Coast. It is already possible to shop for groceries on but the offer is poor, consisting mostly of coffee, cereals, coconut oil and chia seeds, while Walmart has a groceries pickup service of $50 minimum order with $3 pickup fee.


Cartly offers delivery of ethnic goods. The first two deliveries are free ($5.99 thereafter) and you get a credit of $10 to sign up, with a minimum order of $25.

Culiniste is somewhere between restaurant and grocery delivery. They craft recipes and deliver the ingredients for you to cook with. 3 meals/week x 2 persons will set you back $59, while 4/week is $78, taxes and shipping included. Prices may go as low as $8.75/person for larger families.

For alcohol delivery, apart from some of the aforementioned grocers (currently Grocery Gateway and Urbery, but more to come), you have The Beer Guy ($10 + $1.50/each 12-pack over 36 beers, /every additional liquor or wine bottle over 3, /stop at Beer Store or LCBO), Dial-A-Bottle ($8+10%), Always Dial a Bottle ($8+10% + $5 if hotel or set time), Home Delivery Canada ($10+$1.50 / stop + more), Liquor Delivery Boys of Ontario ($8 + 15% credit card + overages for more than 36 bottles of beer or 3 bottles of wine or liquor), and Finest Beer Delivery ($8+$1.50 if more than 3 cases of beer or 10 bottles of wine or liquor; no extra for cigarettes or convenience store items). Steam Whistle also supposedly delivers for free: email doortodoor at steamwhistle dot ca or call/text 647-992-BEER; however, I got no reply when testing on a Sunday.

As for organics, we have an even larger selection, although the aforementioned grocery delivery stores also have an organic section available. Organic produce requires a bit more of a commitment, as it operates on a subscription model: Good Food Box at Foodshare (non-profit, $13-$34 / box, delivered at set drop-off points), Wheelbarrow Farm (a season of 40 deliveries is $400; you may also get pork), Farms and Forks (delivery is free if you get a produce box starting at $32 or spend $75 or $6.99), Front Door Organics (box prices start at $30 with free delivery, $2 customization), Plan B Organic Farms ($30-$45/week CSA), Mama Earth Organics ($30-60 baskets, $2 customization), Wanigan ($25-45 baskets + other product delivered weekly on set day; fresh market store in Brampton), Zephyr Organics (CSA for some Toronto suburbs), Fresh City Farms (“roots in CSA”, farm in Downsview Park), OrganicsLive (small 1-2 people $37/week to large 4-6 people $57/week).

Sources / More info: cb-cpcg

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