UPDATE: Comparing online grocery delivery services in Canada

by Jordan Lavin May 8, 2020 / No Comments

Online grocery shopping is no easy task right now. Thanks to social/physical distancing, stores have shortened their hours and limited the number of people who can enter at a time leading to long lineups just to get in. Meanwhile, restaurant closures have caused a surge in demand for groceries leading to shortages of some items and frustrating experiences for shoppers.

If you’ve never shopped for groceries online, now seems like the right time to give it a try. But with lots of choices – and lots of issues – which online grocery delivery service is the best? Let’s take a look at your online grocery shopping options in Canada.

For the purposes of this article, details on prices, availability and services offered are based on the locations closest to my home in the suburbs of Toronto (or, if no nearby location exists, my mom’s house in Victoria). This sample reflects just a fraction of the 2,500 supermarkets across the country, so your experience may be different.

Visit Ratehub.ca’s COVID-19 education centre: COVID-19 and personal finance

Best overall online grocery delivery: Loblaws (includes NoFrills, Superstore, Zehrs, Fortinos and PC Express)

Galen Weston has gone on TV many times proclaiming President’s Choice, “worth switching supermarkets for.” Admittedly, I almost always choose PC brand products over big brand names. But what about shopping for groceries online?

Most of the 900 grocery stores run by Loblaws across Canada offer online ordering, although fulfillment varies by brand and location. If you don’t mind picking up your order at curbside or in-store, the easiest way to order is using PC Express. You can use a web browser or the app to find the pickup locations closest to you and place an order.

If you prefer to stay home, many Loblaw and Superstore locations in urban centres offer delivery through InstaCart. Still, you’ll have to use your browser to order. Loblaws advertises same-day delivery, and they’re now back to fulfilling that standard with online grocery delivery available in as little as two hours. 

The fees here are among the lowest, too. Pickup fees have generally been waived, and delivery is a shockingly reasonable $3.99. You’re given the option to tip your delivery team at checkout. 

Loblaws and its related brands only accept MasterCard credit cards in-store but also accepts Visa for pickup orders and American Express for delivery.

  • Pickup fee: $3-$5 depending on the time of day (may be waived)
  • Current pickup timeline: About 2 weeks
  • Delivery fee: $3.99
  • Current delivery timeline: Within 2-5 hours
  • Order with an app: Yes

Overall online grocery delivery – runner-up: Walmart

Walmart stores across Canada were retrofitted with grocery departments starting in 2006, and now the international mega-chain is a leading playing in the grocery industry. They added nationwide delivery through Instacart just eight months ago, and free curbside pickup is available at many locations with a minimum order.

If you’re looking to pick up anything other than groceries, you don’t have that option at this time. Anything else you add to your cart on the Walmart website will be shipped to your home for free.

Pickup and delivery windows are only made available 7 days in advance. Currently there appear to be lots of slots available as long as you’re willing to pick up or receive your order after 5pm. 

  • Pickup fee: Free with $50 minimum order
  • Current pickup timeline: About 48 hours
  • Delivery fee: $9.97
  • Current delivery timeline: About 24 hours
  • Order with an app: Yes

Fastest grocery delivery service (as of April 2020): Cornershop

Update May 8th, 2020: While still speedy, Cornershop has lost its lead to Loblaws but the option to describe what you want and request hot options still makes this a worthy entry.

In a world dominated by startup companies that describe themselves as the “Uber of (nameathing)” the “Uber of groceries” is Cornershop.

The premise is quite simple. You use their app to order groceries online, pay a service fee, and they dispatch someone to pick them up and bring them to your home. You can also request items not found in the online catalogue. So your hankering for “something deep-fried from the ready-to-eat section that doesn’t look dried out” stands a chance of being fulfilled.

The company isn’t candid about where its services are and aren’t available, but in my area, Cornershop offers delivery from Walmart, Metro, Costco, Longo’s, BulkBarn, M&M, and a few non-food retailers, so you have lots of options to choose from. And the delivery window is currently within 24 hours.

When this article was first published back in April, Cornershop was the only service coming close to same-day delivery. There are now better options for getting groceries delivered quickly, especially considering the cost. My experiment in ordering a $4.49 bag of milk revealed the app’s exorbitant fees: a 10% service fee and $9.90 delivery fee (plus HST on both), and a $5.00 “COVID-19 delays fee” to compensate shoppers for the extra time it takes to get groceries right now. Grand total: $21.18 – a markup of a cool 372%.

To be fair, a reasonable grocery run of $100 would add fees of about $22.00 which aren’t criminal but are exceptionally steep.

  • Pickup fee: Not available
  • Current pickup timeline: Not available
  • Delivery fee: 10-25% of order total, plus $6.90-$9.90, plus $5.00.
  • Current delivery timeline: About 8 hours
  • Order with an app: Yes

Best online grocery delivery for non-perishable food items: Amazon / Whole Foods

You might go on Amazon to order everything else in your life, but what about groceries? Especially since the online behemoth purchased Whole Foods a few years back, you might expect to find a unique combination of great prices, service and quality.

That’s not the case just yet. There are only a handful of Whole Foods stores in Toronto and Vancouver, none of which offer online ordering. Your only option is to shop Whole Foods products on Amazon, and even then, you’re limited to non-perishables only. There are no vegetables to be found here.

However, if non-perishable food items are what you need, Amazon is a great place to look. You can get free delivery with an Amazon Prime membership and the guaranteed delivery time for food items is in the range of one day up to a week. In my experience, Amazon has been under-promising and over-delivering on timelines recently, so your items could show up sooner than expected.

The combination of great selection, ease of ordering and quick delivery with no membership required make Amazon your best source for delivery of items like cereal, canned goods, rice, beans, nuts, dried fruit, pasta and snacks.

  • Pickup fee: Not available.
  • Current pickup timeline: Not available
  • Delivery fee: Free with Prime membership
  • Current delivery timeline: 24 hours to 2 weeks, depending on the product
  • Order with an app: Yes 

Grocery delivery for non-perishable food items runner-up: Costco

I have a love-hate relationship with Costco chronicled in my earlier ramblings about the Capital One Costco MasterCard.

Costco does not offer curbside pickup in Canada, but they do offer delivery of non-perishable items. You can order anything online from a leather recliner to an $87,000 diamond ring, to a tandem bicycle. But to get your hands on milk, eggs, bread and produce, you’ll have to head to the warehouse.

Delivery is free, but Costco candidly states that online prices may differ from what you find in the warehouse. My personal experience with Costco is that the “free” online delivery is built into the price and bumps up the average item by anywhere from a few cents to a few dollars.

Fortuitously, items like flour and toilet paper appear to be back in stock online. It will take a while to reach you, however, as Costco says their standard 2-day delivery window has been extended up to 12 days.

And as is always the case with Costco, a membership is required. The basic membership is $60 per year, and can be purchased online and used immediately.

  • Pickup fee: Not available
  • Current pickup timeline: Not available
  • Delivery fee: Free with $75 minimum order ($60 annual membership required)
  • Current delivery timeline: 7-12 days
  • Order with an app: Yes

A good online grocer in Western Canada: Save-On-Foods

Grocery shoppers in Western Canada will be happy to know that roughly two-thirds of Save-On-Foods locations let you shop Darrell’s Deals online and choose to pick up your order or have it delivered.

Save-On-Foods has taken the extra step of reserving some pickup and delivery time slots for seniors, people with disabilities and other vulnerabilities, and front-line workers. However, the lead times are still longer than other grocers, and they’re asking for people who are able to shop in-store to do so.

Somewhat annoying is the requirement to register for an account and sign up for Save More Rewards before you can access their online shopping portal. But once you’re signed up, it’s easy to find what you need on the website or app.

  • Pickup fee: Free
  • Current pickup timeline: 10 days
  • Delivery fee: $4.95 or redeem 2,500 More Rewards points
  • Current delivery timeline: 2-3 days
  • Order with app: Yes

A good online grocery service in Quebec: Metro

With 321 stores in Central Canada, Metro is a popular option – especially in Quebec. For online ordering, though, Metro falls short even in its home province.

The chain offers delivery and in-store pickup, but the options are currently very limited. Delivery is offered only in downtown areas of Toronto and Montreal, and pickup is only offered in a handful of stores in major centres like Quebec, Montreal, Lava and Gatineau.

While your choice of locations is limited, Metro has done a better job than its competitors in the way it doles out delivery and pickup time slots. New time slots are released every morning, giving shoppers a better chance of getting their groceries within a day. But the time slots are going quick – your options will be limited if you don’t get one early in the morning. 

Another minor annoyance with Metro is that despite a dearth of pickup and delivery availability, they’re only honouring their weekly flyer deals if you select a pickup or delivery date within the Thursday-Wednesday flyer week.

  • Pickup fee: $4.00 with $50 minimum order
  • Current pickup timeline: 1-2 days
  • Delivery fee: $4.00 assembly fee + $8.00 delivery fee
  • Current delivery timeline: 1-2 days
  • Order with an app: Yes

A good choice in Souther Ontario: Longo’s / Grocery Gateway

Toronto-area shoppers have been using Longo’s Grocery Gateway service to get their groceries delivered before it was a requirement. If you like to pick up from the store, they offer a pickup service at Longo’s locations as well.

When this article was first published, Grocery Gateway had succumbed to demand and put a halt on new orders. They’re now back online and living up to their sparkling reputation in the GTA. Delivery is available with about 48 hours notice and in-store pickup is available with roughly three days notice. While the timeline is longer than some others, Longo’s and Grocery Gateway are known for having some of the highest quality meat and produce making it worth the wait.

Grocery Gateway enjoys a good reputation in the areas it serves despite delivery fees on the high side at $9.99 plus a $1.00 fuel surcharge. That reputation may be part of what led to problems when demand surged. As of April 20th, Grocery Gateway has fallen over two weeks behind on deliveries and has stopped taking new orders until May 4th.

  • Pickup fee: Free with $50 minimum order
  • Current pickup timeline: 3-4 days
  • Delivery fee: $9.99 + $1.00 fuel surcharge
  • Current delivery timeline: Currently unavailable.
  • Order with an app: Yes

Not yet an online grocer: Sobeys (includes FreshCo, Safeway, IGA, Thrifty Foods and Co-op)

Neither Sobeys nor its sister brand, Safeway, offer online ordering yet. The latest news on the subject is that preparations are underway to provide the service by late 2020, pending the construction of a new distribution centre.

The only brand in the Sobeys family to offer pickup and delivery right now is Thrifty Foods, a chain of about two dozen stores on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. Thrifty Foods has stopped offering pickup and delivery time slots beyond the end of the upcoming flyer week (Thursday-Wednesday).

  • Pickup fee: $4.95 (Thrifty Foods only)
  • Current pickup timeline: 4-5 days (Thrifty Foods only)
  • Delivery fee: Pickup fee plus $3.00 (Thrifty Foods only)
  • Current delivery timeline: Currently unavailable. (Thrifty Foods only)
  • Order with an app: Yes (Thrifty Foods only)

New contender to the online grocery world: [email protected]

Sysco is a worldwide company who sells distributes food and non-food products to restaurants, healthcare and educational facilities. Now, they’re using that massive infrastructure to deliver groceries directly to customers using their [email protected] website across Canada. They started in Toronto and will expand to other major cities soon, it’s worth checking now if it’s available in your area. It’s a click-and-collect, or pick up service through one of their distribution warehouses. They have meat, dry grocery, fresh produce, dairy, special diet offerings, and yes, cleaning and sanitation supplies.

  • Pickup fee: Free
  • Current pickup timeline: 4-5 days (Thrifty Foods only)
  • Delivery fee: Depends on location, in Toronto it was $20Free delivery over $300
  • Current delivery timeline: Next day delivery
  • Order with an app: Yes

The online grocery alternative

It’s tough getting groceries from the major chains. But, many local restaurants and shops are setting up grocery stores as a way to sustain their business. In Toronto, a neighbourhood chicken shop, “Love Chix,” set up a bodega offering a great $50 box of fruits and vegetables. Speaking of which, the neighbourhood fruit market, “Carloads,” is new to the online grocery market. We had Justin from Black Cat Espresso on the Real Money Talk podcast – he’s delivering coffee, beer, and even steaks! 

#supportlocal

What shops or restaurants did you frequent in your ‘hood? Visit their website or social profiles to see what they’re doing to stay afloat in this new economy.  While they might not have the vast selection you’d like to find at a grocery store, they offer some fresh essentials to connect the dots between the can of beans and rice in your pantry.

Other online food delivery services

Oh, and let’s not forget all the meal kit options like Cookit, ChefsPlate, and Hello Fresh – for those times you’re done with Skip the Dishes, but you really don’t want to prep a meal either.

The bottom line

After several weeks of grocery troubles, services seem to have caught up with demand and there are now a few good options for getting your groceries delivered.

For the best balance of delivery timeline, product availability and fees, choose Loblaws and Superstore. A close second place in this category is Walmart, which suffers only because of its higher fees and limitations on which products can be picked up at curbside. Save-On-Foods is a good option for shoppers in Western Canada and Longo’s Grocery Gateway is a choice in Southern Ontario, but their long wait times keep out of the top two. 

For an alternative fast delivery option (if you’re willing to pay), check out the Cornershop app. At less than 24 hours, it’s your quickest option to get groceries delivered.

If non-perishables are what you need, take a look at Amazon for good prices, decent selection and relatively fast delivery. If you need to buy in larger quantities or need something specific, Costco is a decent option if you’re already a member.

The other major supermarket chains are all currently falling too far behind to be worth considering right now. Sobey’s, Canada’s second-largest grocer, doesn’t offer online ordering except for a small subset of its stores. 

Finally, please thank the people delivering and picking your groceries. These people are risking their lives, so you don’t have to worry about contracting COVID-19. Be grateful, give them praise, even if you have to wait a little longer than you’d like to.

 

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