In the past few months, New Yorkers have been bombarded by billboards, flyers, and Citi Bike ads from grocery delivery apps like Buyk, Fridge No More, Jokr, 1520, Gorillas, and Go Puff. Complete with flashy branding, aggressive marketing campaigns, and 50 percent-off promo codes, they have catapulted into the New York market seemingly all at once — and they all promise to deliver your wildest pint of Jeni’s or crisp Gotham Greens romaine in anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.
After the umpteenth flyer was shoved in my hand, I decided to do a little research into these brands. I consider myself a bit of a grocery-shopping aficionado: I’ve been known to visit between five and seven stores a week, ranging from everyday spots like Trader Joe’s to upscale shops like Dimes Market. And most days, I love grocery shopping. Picking out my own avocados and spontaneously purchasing a $6.99 mini papaya is what I live for. But, when I found a 50 percent off Fridge No More promo code tucked in my mailbox, I indulged my inner sloth and ordered some groceries for dinner. There was no account set up needed, not even an email — just my phone number and Apple Pay information. My array of cauliflower, veggie burgers, and rose-colored strawberries arrived seamlessly (unlike Seamless) at my door in 12 minutes.
A second, early-morning purchase of a 32-ounce bottle of Bragg apple cider vinegar from Gorillas came in 13 minutes, cost $8.79 (expensive, yes, but only slightly more than my bodega’s $7.99), and included a custom-branded, complimentary Fine & Raw chocolate bar and handwritten note. After a full day of errands, I pulled up Jokr’s app to order coffee, tapped it into my cart, and was then sidetracked by some of the app’s “daily deals.” I ended up adding a jar of Maille cornichons for $1.29 as well as organic coconut oil for $1.99, and everything arrived in 12 minutes. Did I need these things? Nope, but it sure was fun.
On the surface, all of the apps seemed indistinguishable, but with a little digging, I found that Fridge No More has the widest selection of high-quality produce; Gorillas stocks local favorites like bagel shop Black Seed and ice cream spot Oddfellows and has a great selection of vegan products; and Jokr has those cut-rate daily deals. Only one of the services that I tried — Gorillas — had a delivery fee ($1.80). Most of the prices were comparable to shopping at a real-life grocery store — and, at times, less expensive.
But the thing that I appreciated most about the apps wasn’t the quick delivery times. It was the spontaneity: I could be home and stay home, and order what I needed when I needed it. I didn’t need to prebook a delivery window, like with Instacart or Fresh Direct. I can think of a few occasions — like when getting home from shopping and realizing that I forgot dinner’s crucial basil — where I’d need my delivery, stat. Same-day from Whole Foods won’t cut it.
Still, I was suspicious of these apps because something smelled insufferably like startup about them: the missing vowels, questionable spelling, and Mad Libs playfulness. But it’s become clear that the perks of 15-minute grocery deliveries are striking a similar chord with many other New Yorkers. It has quickly become a big business in the city: Jokr netted $170 million for its expansion into the U.S., the Berlin-based Gorillas is valued at $1 billion, and the New York-based Fridge No More has raised a cool $15.4 million in its latest round. Many of them have origins in Europe. Gorillas, Jokr, and Fridge No More have all launched in the past 18 months. The on-demand delivery services are hoovering up cash to expand across NYC and beyond, setting up micro-warehouses and hiring full-time couriers to shake up the grocery world.
The services work by creating 2,000- to 3,000-item micro-fulfilment centers throughout the city, as opposed to centralized warehouses like Amazon or Fresh Direct. They employ workers to scour the shelves, pack the goods, and then hop on a bike to deliver the packages within a one- to two-mile radius.
The majority of these services, unlike many restaurant delivery apps, hire employees instead of relying on independent contractors. Workers make an hourly wage, keep all of their tips, have access to benefits, and are provided with bikes and safety gear, according to representatives from Gorillas and Jokr. Buyk has a weight limit of 26 pounds on deliveries, and all of their warehouses have designated courier resting areas, according to the company. But Gorillas workers have organized and launched multiple protests this year over a lack of proper gear and pay discrepancies at the company’s warehouses in Germany. (Gorillas has disputed the workers’ claims of unfair treatment. It also said that it is working on new safety measures in an October statement responding to the protests.)
All of these apps seemingly surfaced overnight, but it was actually more of a trickle over the past six months. Each started with a smaller coverage area and has expanded to larger swaths of the city. According to a representative for Jokr, the mass expansion in New York stems from an opportunity to seize on the consumer desire for increased convenience and shorter delivery times. The same sentiment was echoed at Gorillas, where the company found a gap in the market for providing on-demand goods for customers. (Fridge No More’s CEO Pavel Danilov declined to comment for this piece unless the story was specifically focused on Fridge No More.)
Coupled with the increased vacant retail space throughout the city to house the micro-fulfilment centers, the on-demand delivery boom is a rush for brand recognition and to snap up market share. And, even though the grocery market is already bursting with delivery services like Instacart, there will likely be demand for a range of grocery options in the future. “Consumers will have times and products where they need super-fast delivery and other times where slower, less costly shipping will work,” says Richard Kestenbaum, a former New York University business professor and a partner at consumer goods investment firm Triangle Capital, LLC. “We’re going to have both types of fast and slower service in the future in grocery.”
While the on-demand nature of the services is appealing, it’s not a perfect system for consumers. I’d often find myself sitting on my couch scrolling through app after app, looking for my assemblage of specific vegan needs: an order of hummus, BjornQorn popcorn, and some sort of leafy green and pint of berries to all come from the same place. It was impossible. Fridge No More had the greens, but not the popcorn. Gorillas had the popcorn, but the hummus was an extra $2 and it was out of greens. Jokr had the coveted blackberries, but not the other items. After spending 25 minutes toggling back and forth, attempting to remember a promo code I saw on a billboard, I settled on Fridge No More. But I think it’s safe to say that in the world of exhaustive consumer-facing decision-making, we might not need six apps to choose from.
Kyle Beechey is a New York-based writer of many things, but mostly screenplays and articles.