Shopping to get high quality organic food at a reasonable price isn't easy. One of my personal hacks is to do a lot of comparison shopping for any packaged goods our family eats. Getting fresh, local fruits, vegetables and meats is always the core of a healthy diet. But we use farmer's markets, CSAs and local grocers for that portion.
Trying Out Thrive Market
The new online grocery entrant is Thrive Market. Thrive Market is focused on natural and organic groceries and household products, so it's more niche than the other two, but we use a lot of those products in our household. Thrive Market has taken $159 million (!) in venture capital funding, so they are very serious about becoming dominant in their niche.
Thrive Market's model is a bit different than the other two, it is more like Costco than Walmart. Here are the pros and cons of using Thrive Market:
Thrive Market benefits:
- Generally low item prices
- Decent selection of foods selected for their healthiness
- Stocks some otherwise hard-to-find items
- Free shipping over $49
- Have their own branded items that can't be found elsewhere
- For every paid membership, donates a free membership to a family in need
- They attempt to reduce carbon footprint in their shipping practices
Thrive Market drawbacks:
- There's a membership fee
- Shipping isn't free under $49
- Shipping can be slow
- The selection is rapidly expanding but in general is smaller than other vendors
As you can see above, there are definite pros and cons. The fact that shipping isn't free under $49 doesn't bother me because we don't order in small quantities, it never comes into play. It's similar to how we use Vitacost in that way.
Thrive Market tries to save on shipping both for financial reasons and to be more green by packaging everything into as few boxes as possible. You have to think farther ahead when shopping at Thrive Market than Amazon, but the savings to the planet of the reduced packing materials and carbon footprint are no doubt real. It just depends on what you value, and like I say, we make use of all three of these options.
What's with the negative reviews?
One of the reasons it took me a while to try out Thrive Market was that I read online reviews and it appears to be a service you either love or hate.
There are quite a few very negative reviews out there so I spent some time sifting through them. They mostly seem to fall into two camps:
1) "I didn't know there was a membership fee"
2) "It's hard to cancel"
Thrive Market runs a lot of promotions, often touting free products. However, their free products come with a trial membership and once it expires they will bill you for the annual fee. This is pretty much how subscription services work, going all the way back to the Columbia House Records deals from my youth. I don't actually expect to get anything for free so this isn't a turn off to me, but beware, if you accept their offers they will bill you after the trial period.
The other one is that the membership is hard to cancel. I have started it, cancelled it and restarted it without any real issues. Like most subscription products, they try to talk you out of leaving when you express that intent. Again, I expect that so it doesn't offend me to jump through the hoops to leave when that time comes.
Let's Talk about the Membership Fee
The part of the Thrive Market service that will make most people balk is the membership fee as it's a little unusual to pay a fee like that for groceries (unless you use Costco or BJ's). And to be honest, it initially rubbed me the wrong way and it took me a while to give it a try. However, I now think it's one of those things that at the end of the day makes no serious difference.
The reason I say that is that using Amazon frequently means you'll need to buy Amazon Prime, which is another membership fee. Amazon's annual fee is 50% higher than Thrive Market. However, it's a higher value fee as the selection at Amazon is nearly limitless and it includes a streaming TV membership that can make Netflix blush. But it is a membership fee.
Vitacost and other online vendors also have free shipping over a certain order size and we make heavy use of their coupons, but the per item prices are often somewhat higher. So there's no membership fee but it all comes out in the wash; because at the end of the day, shipping costs money and these are low-margin products.
Two other small notes. One is about Amazon, though their selection in general is unparalleled, they don't carry quite a few items that we look for, as you'll see below. The other note is about Thrive Market's email newsletter. They send emails a little more frequently than I'd like, but they are often packed with truly valuable recipes and information. It's not just a sales pitch and I think it's worth signing up to hear from them.
Thrive Market Coupon Codes
The way Thrive Market promotes their service is through semi-constant sale promotions. There's pretty much always a sale going on at Thrive Market. It's often free samples of popular items, other times it is a percentage off. We'll keep the most recent promo codes and offers on this page to make it easy. Note that taking advantage of any such promotion will mean that you are signing up for their annual fee.
A Sample Trip to Thrive Market
One difficulty with this is that there aren't a lot of places to source the goods we use. I'll explain why I buy each item below because there's always a reason. And note that this isn't a cohesive meal plan at all, it's just a smattering of stuff I happened to buy that all came in the same box.
Note: Organic Daily Post is an affiliate of Amazon, Vitacost and Thrive Market but we actually use and can honestly recommend all three.
We use these for treats in the kids' lunches. They don't contain any low-quality oils like soy or canola and they have flax seed for extra nutrition. They also don't contain any nuts. Our kids aren't allergic to nuts but they can only take things to school that are nut-free and these qualify. They are sweeter than I'd like, but they don't taste sweet compared to other more conventional granola bars.
This product is difficult to find but it's one of only two mayos I could find anywhere that aren't somehow stuffed with junk. This one is made with no junky oils like soy, corn or canola. It contains no sugar. It also uses avocado oil, which has many health benefits.
Whole Foods and other health food stores carry Bob's products so you don't have to order this one online. The baking soda is a little harder to find than all the various grains Bob's makes, but it's around.
I use this particular baking soda because it's processed without the use of chemicals, like most other baking sodas are. If you're just sticking in your fridge to absorb odors or using it for some other non-consumption purpose, then don't worry about it. But if you're eating it, spend a bit more on the good stuff.
A jar full of sugar syrup of any sort isn't the healthiest thing you can buy, I admit that. But certain dessert recipes call for this syrup and you have to live a little once in a while. We use about one of these jars a year, mostly around Thanksgiving. If you have to use it, this is the one to use.
This is another food we use as a treat for the kids. Again, not the healthiest choice of a food but it is made with organic whole grain wheat, it's non-GMO and it doesn't taste as sweet as similar conventional options. Sometimes you need a quick snack that can easily be packed into a lunch and this one fits the bill. I like to buy items that don't taste as sweet because it trains our kids not to expect as much sweetness in their foods.
Coconut sugar is fabulous (as sugars go) because it's low on the glycemic index and produces a slow release of energy. It is also high in nutrients compared to other sugars. Coconut sugar is often mixed with other, less beneficial, sugar so make sure you choose a pure one like this version from Big Tree Farms. This one is also fair trade, which is nice.
Again, this is not a health food per se, but a replacement for what "other kids" eat and our kids want to try. We very rarely go to a theater but if we do or if we watch a movie at home and want to give the kids a rare treat, we give them these as a substitute for Twizzlers. Twizzlers are of course so full of refined sugars, dyes and GMOs that they are hardly a food at all.
I will say that these don't taste like Twizzlers at all really, they just kind of look like them. They don't taste worse than Twizzlers, just different. They are actually sweeter to my palate than Twizzlers. They are also stickier and have less of a waxy texture. It's still candy, but the ingredients are FAR better than real Twizzlers.
I don't like how it's in a can (I wish it were sold in a jar) but it's great to have organic grapes leaves on hand that are packed in a healthy oil. They are organic and non-GMO, about as clean as you'll find except for the unfortunate chemicals that are inherent with any canned good.
This is a great healthy snack. It's actually dairy-free despite the cheese flavor and it's kale, so it's packed with nutrition. There are various flavors, you don't have to stick with cheese. It's also raw, which is unusual for packaged foods. The only problem with this snack is that it's super easy to eat a whole bag in a sitting, making it a very expensive snack.
Here's one you probably don't think about. We are big sushi eaters in our household, even the kids love it though they eat veggie-only sushi. Conventional sushi ginger has tons of added chemicals. This organic sushi ginger has wonderful, pure ingredients. It's more expensive than the free version that comes with the sushi of course, but if you eat it frequently I think it's a worthwhile upgrade.
I love how this pumpkin purée is organic and isn't in a can. Canned foods often contain plastics and BPA that can leach into your food.
We don't use a lot of this either, just for soups and around Thanksgiving. It's another healthier option that is worth the upgrade.
I like to buy organic spices when possible. They're free of fillers, chemical preservatives and pesticides. This is especially important for spices like turmeric that come mainly from regions with fewer regulations than we have in the US (not that those are fantastic either).
This is a brand (Simply Organic) that you can get pretty readily at many grocery stores but I often find better deals online.
Again, BPA and plastic lining in cans leaches chemicals into your food. Finding jarred options are a much healthier choice. This one is packed in olive oil which makes it extra healthy. An overzealous TSA agent confiscated and tossed this particular jar, so I'm looking forward to actually tasting it when my next order arrives.
Are there other products you'd like to see? We're happy to swap these out for more popular items or even review some Thrive Market private label items if you'd like. Let us know in the comments!