The Best (and Most Ethical) Way to Actually Get a Grocery Delivery Right Now

updated Apr 10, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: CC Buckley

If you’ve tried to secure an Instacart, AmazonFresh, or other grocery delivery time slot recently, you’ve probably gotten a notification that looks something like this: “No delivery times available.” It’s not surprising. As the coronavirus crisis continues to escalate, more and more Americans are clamoring for services that will help them avoid setting foot in physical grocery stores — and the demand is overwhelming the system.

But grocery delivery is not a simple solution for everyone. As orders surge, so do the health risks — possibly exposing shoppers, store workers, and delivery drivers to the virus. Instacart workers organized a strike last week, demanding increased safety measures and benefits. And several grocery store workers have died over the past week.

As a publication that recommends services like these on the regular, we had to reassess whether or not we can, in good conscience, continue to promote grocery delivery at all right now. We are concerned about the workers. But in addition to the risks they’re running, it’s also almost impossible to even get a delivery time slot when you need one.

So, what’s a more ethical and available way to actually get a grocery delivery right now? Is there one? There is! We discovered a suggestion in a local town’s Facebook group, and we thought it was the smartest and best idea for these trying times.

Arrange a group bulk order from a restaurant supply service and divide the haul between a few households (friends, family, neighbors).

Why is this such a good idea? First, restaurant supply services have a wealth of available food in stock as their restaurant clients shutter or go to more minimal service. Second, by doing one big order, you cut down on the time workers are spending packing and delivering orders. Instead of five families getting delivery, only one is.

This very smart idea came from a group of families that were coordinating an order from Baldor Specialty Foods, a food service distributor that usually serves restaurants in the New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston, and D.C. areas.

As a response to the coronavirus outbreak, Baldor expanded its services to offer free home bulk grocery delivery. Ben Walker, Baldor Specialty Foods VP of Sales and Marketing, says that, “Since the company opened up their online ordering system, (which is normally used by only restaurants and other food service establishments) more than 60,000 consumers have signed up to receive home delivery.”

In order to access Baldor’s home grocery service you have to sign up on the company’s website and create an account. This service is only available if you live within their delivery zone: Currently those within a 50-mile radius of Baldor’s Bronx headquarters, all of Long Island, and those in the Philadelphia and Boston urban areas can place an order. On the website, “there are thousands of grocery items consumers can choose from including all the staples. Orders are being pulled by our warehouse employees and then delivered by our own drivers,” says Walker.

Linda Sokolski is a customer who arranged a group order for her family of three, her mother (who is 93), her aide who lives in a neighboring town, and another friend: “Not everything Baldor sells is offered in bulk. You can buy one box of pasta, or one carton of tofu. But I did find that the price of items decreases the more you buy. It’s cheaper, per unit, to order 15-dozen organic eggs than it is to purchase one-dozen eggs. Vegetables and fruits are generally sold in larger quantities as well. For example, you cannot order fewer than three heads of romaine lettuce but you could also order a case.”

The order took four days to process, from choosing the items to delivery. Of their customer service, Sokolski had rave reviews: “They are extremely responsive by email and phone … really friendly and flexible.”

I don’t live near Baldor. What are other restaurant supply options around the country?

We realize that Baldor does not serve the entire continental U.S. at this time, so what if you’re not in the Baldor delivery area? Baldor of course is just one restaurant supplier. Look for a food service distributor in your area. Most of these companies are regional and many are offering a similar service. Plus, there are lots of small farms or specialty distributors (ones that focus on, say, meat or Italian goods) that are making the shift to offer home delivery directly to consumers. Some restaurant suppliers are small and regional; ask your local restaurant and chef friends if they can help you make contact with someone to do this in your area.

But also here are a few ideas of companies serving major areas and nationally.

  • The Chef’s Warehouse recently added home delivery (also with a $250 minimum) to consumers in an expanding list of areas including Vegas, Texas, Chicagoland, and more.
  • University Foods in Southern California is also making the switch to consumer delivery (email
  • WebstaurantStore is a national online service which ships wholesale ingredients to both food service professionals and individuals in 36 states (look here to see if you’re covered). Shoppers can choose from the company’s selection of beverages, condiments and sauces, cooking oil and sprays, herbs and spices, baked goods and desserts, dairy, prepared foods, ingredients and snacks, fruits and vegetables, meat, and seafood.

OK, I have more questions about restaurant suppliers and wholesale.

You’ve got questions? We’ve got answers!

Are all the products bulk-sized?

Sometimes but not always. This will vary among distributors and suppliers. Ben Walker at Baldor says of their service, “Where we could, we have sourced smaller, retail-sized items on popular products like eggs, milk, chicken, bread. We have launched hundreds of items in the last two weeks that would be more in line with what consumers are used to getting in a grocery store.” Other services might not be pivoting to be so consumer-friendly, but again the idea here is to buy in bulk and split it across households. At WebstaurantStore, for instance, not every single item is sold by the case, although many options are, which is why we recommend coordinating a group order. (But who are we to judge if your family needs 50 pounds of cane sugar!)

Do these restaurant suppliers have groceries available?

Yes! “About 95% of our inventory is on the shelf and ready to ship, with the exception of some items that experienced extreme surges in demand as a result of the virus,” WebstaurantStore president Dave Groff reports. (Like most grocery stores, they are currently out of yeast, and toilet paper too.)

How much does a restaurant bulk order cost?

There is currently a $250 order minimum at Baldor and this is common to many suppliers. Ben Walker told us that, “The minimum order was set in order to mimic our traditional wholesale business as much as possible. Our transportation routes are built to cover a large area with a few, large orders. Our system isn’t built to handle thousands of $100-orders a day.”

People have organized (socially distanced!) group purchases, dividing ingredients (including fresh produce, meat, dairy, cheese, and baked goods) amongst themselves upon delivery and splitting the cost. But even with that minimum, we know plenty of families that could meet that cap in a single order or simply go halfsies with one neighbor.

One more bulk grocery option: Call a restaurant directly!

If none of these options are available to you, we also recommend calling local restaurants to see if they are selling ingredients on a smaller scale. Many restaurants are packing up the ingredients that they’d normally use to cook with and selling them directly to customers instead. That includes pantry staples like grains, legumes, and nuts; cuts of meat; fresh produce; eggs; and dairy. We’ve also seen reports of bakeries selling flour and yeast by the pound, and eggs by the dozen.

And like the bulk ordering, this is yet one more way to promote physical distancing and keep workers safe. The restaurants we’ve seen do this overwhelmingly do curb pickup — no mask necessary. We all get fed and stay safe.

Have you found a workaround to overwhelmed online grocery delivery services?