Grocery Delivery 2021: Target Is The “Pay Less” Leader, but With a Delivery Fee

Last February, I wrote a shopping comparison report looking at in-store shopping at local grocery stores, including co-ops like Seward and national warehouses like Costco. As I wrote then, Costco was the winner-winner five dollar chicken dinner.

It’s been a year, and I apologize for not writing as frequently. The global pandemic has really taken a toll. And speaking of Costco, I was one of those folks in the lines blocks long trying to pick up toilet paper for my friends and family. Gosh! Remember that?

Panic! at the Costco. Photo taken by author on March 17, 2020.

So now we are in the beginning of the end of this thing, and many folks have started to change their routine to shop online or in-app and get their groceries delivered.

I know there are a lot of moral and labor relations quandaries with this area of the grocery industry. I, for one, would love to see delivery workers correctly labeled under Minnesota state law as employees, and get the benefits and overtime that come with that classification. There are also union-busting moves by several of the big players, so labor relations can be a huge issue for workers and consumers alike.

I am not a labor expert. I was a member of UFCW when I worked at Rainbow Foods, but I never was involved in my union there. Now my Rainbow is a Kowalski’s.

Setting all those quandaries aside, I wanted to help answer the simple question of which delivery service is most affordable for working families and those who don’t feel comfortable shopping inside an indoor grocery store with strangers all around.

Short answer: Target has the lowest prices. Long answer: It’s complicated, and depends on what you are buying and what your cart total is compared to any delivery fees. For example, Amazon is free delivery after a cart total of $35, while Target charges $10 flat for delivery orders after a free trial. As it happens, Amazon has the highest prices and Target has the lowest prices of the group that I sampled.

Check out the entire Google spreadsheet, including absolute and relative prices and different scoring methods. I priced Costco, Amazon Fresh (not Whole Foods), Cub, and Target. Costco and Cub use the Instacart delivery network, while Target uses its own Shipt delivery service. Amazon uses temp worker Amazon Flex drivers.

I invite you to check out the whole spreadsheet. I saved time by only using the top 10 items from last year’s list of cart items that folks voted on. These 10 items were combined about 47% of the total weighting of the index.

Let’s check out the top three items — milk, eggs, and mozzarella cheese.

Target has the lowest price on both milk and eggs. In reality, Amazon Fresh, Cub, and Target all charge $2.99 per gallon of 2% low-fat milk. For eggs, you can pick up a 18-count carton for just $1.99, cheaper than the competition.

As I was working on the graphics for this piece, Target dropped the price on milk. So they may be the low price leader now there.

The price of 2% low-fat milk at Target dropped from $2.99 to $2.79 during the writing of this story.

But when it comes to the classic, shredded mozz, Costco had the five pound deal. With free delivery, you can get a five pound pack for $16.16, which is $3.23 per pound. On the high end is Cub, at $4.75 per pound.

Different folks will have different grocery needs, and this reduced weight index may not at all match what you like to buy for your household. The great thing is, you don’t have to go in-person to compare prices! This whole project just took a few hours and hopefully we are all more nourished for the experience!

Leave a comment if you would suggest another delivery service, have any particular items that you really would recommend, or want to speak to your own experience as a grocery worker or deliver worker.

Stay warm and stay well!

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26 thoughts on “Grocery Delivery 2021: Target Is The “Pay Less” Leader, but With a Delivery Fee

  1. Monte Castleman

    Thinking about the post-COVID world is fascinating to me. Once it became unsafe to go in public buildings, I started doing online grocery pickup at Walmart. They also offer delivery in St. Paul and some suburbs (but apparently not Minneapolis probably because there’s no store in or nearby) at about $10 an order, or as part of an annual unlimited service. It almost seems old fashioned now the thought of having to walk through the aisles and pick up my own stuff, and then go outside and load it into my vehicle myself in the freezing cold instead of shopping laying down in bed and then a quick drive and someone comes out and puts it in my vehicle. There are some frustrating things about it like getting bum produce or planning a meal around something that gets deleted as out of stock, but I’m not going back to shopping indoors even when it is safe to do so. Walmart already has two stores that are testing the “pickup and delivery only” model and Hy-Vee is integrating new pick-up lanes in their new prototype. In the future a lot of big box stores are likely to be more fulfillment centers as opposed to stores.

    Similarly fast food places are realizing even more-so that their dining room is a waste of space when you balance how few people would not switch to drive-thru, to go, or delivery if the dining room weren’t available relative to the space it takes, the labor to keep it clean, and now the possibility of customers making their employees sick and even shuttering the restaurant by lingering around when contagious. You’re seeing some keep their dining room closed even when current executive orders would allow it to be open. Besides how convenient they are under normal circumstances, drive-thrus and delivery would seem to be by far the safest way to get restaurant food in a pandemic for customers and store employees alike.

    There’s a new Dunkin’ going up in Mankato with only a drive-thru- no take-out or dining room. The new Taco Bell approved in Brooklyn Park does have a very small (interior) lobby for ordering to-go, but it’s mainly a drive-thru, made even safer since the food will be delivered to the window by dumbwaiter from a 2nd story kitchen, and they’ll be multiple lanes for prepaid app orders only to encourage that. Not even a brief close person to person (albeit half outdoor) contact to pay for your food and grab the bag needed

    I had to quit Chipotle. They do not deliver to my address, nor do they offer curbside pickup so you have to put yourself in danger by going into their store. Most newer ones do have a drive-thru window to avoid this danger, the “Chipoltlane” for prepaid app order pickup, but the one near me is older. Once it’s safe to resume picking up orders inside, I’ll start to do so again. Burger King is also testing new prototypes: One of them maintains a (much smaller) dining room, but both have a separate drive-thru lane for delivery drivers and app orders only.

    1. Conrad ZbikowskiConrad

      Thank you for sharing your experiences! It’s definitely true that shopping indoors can be a frustrating experience. I know I haven’t had a great experience at Walmart or Cub Foods. But I do enjoy the “treasure hunt” at Costco. Costco has said that it will maintain a in-store first model.

      I know folks like you that will probably do delivery for a lot of groceries going forward. My mother likes to get unsweetened soymilk. Costco doesn’t sell it. Target is always out of it. But with Amazon Fresh, she can get 10 half-gallons anytime and buy a little extra and that’s free delivery.

      I do think there will be the human element for a long time because of the doorstep jaunt. An AI car can drive, but only a human can bring it to your front door.

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      Recognizing that it comes from a place of privilege, this is a decision that’s not driven by cost. I will not use Instacart. I don’t know for sure that L&B uses it’s own employees, but when I order from them, a van with their branding shows up. I want a service that uses actually employees.

  2. Pine SalicaPine Salica

    I tried to use target’s curbside once, we had rented an hourcar and wanted to drop by target on the way back instead of delivery. I tried to give them 45 minutes to get it together but it didn’t work, I cancelled the order and went inside after spending an extra $5 on keeping the car rented. booo.
    I spent the whole time thinking about olde tymey general store concepts where you tell the shopkeep what you want and they hand it to you. a just in time model of curbside!

  3. Sheldon Gitis

    I’ve used Target’s Shipt, Cub’s InstaCart, and Amazon for grocery delivery. I’ve also done the online ordering and pick-up at Walmart, which I was very satisfied with. I agree with Monte, after ordering online and driving to the pick-up lane, I’ll never push a shopping cart through the aisles of a Walmart, Target, or Cub again. That said, as pleasantly surprised and pleased as I was with Walmart, having Amazon drop the stuff off at my front door beats driving to the pick-up lanes by miles, both literally and figuratively, especially during the winter months.

    For delivery, it’s no contest. The Target and Cub orders are “shopped” at whatever one of their nearby stores you select (as are the Walmart pick-up orders). Depending on the inventory when your shopper-delivery person is in the store, the items you order may or may not be available. Consequently, if you need eggs, milk, bread, coffee or whatever, you need to select back-ups, sort of like ranked choice shopping. And if none of your choices are available, and you still want your coffee or whatever, you have to dick around on your phone shooting texts/calls back and forth with the shopper-delivery person to try and get the stuff you need. Worse yet, with Target, the selection of fresh produce and other items available for the Shipt delivery is far more limited than the selection of items available for in-store shopping.

    With Amazon, you order direct from the warehouse, and for the most part, you get what you order. Occasionally, an item or 2 might run out between the time you’re filling your cart and the time you check-out/pay, but that doesn’t happen often. There’s no substitutions, either the item is in the warehouse or it isn’t, in which case it’s listed on your screen as “out of stock”.

    If for some reason I didn’t want to patronize the evil Amazon, my choices for nearby grocery stores are: 4 or more Cubs, 2 Aldi’s, 2 Targets, 2 Walmarts, a Trader Joe’s, a Byerly’s and a couple Kowalski’s. As far as price is concerned, only at Aldi’s have I saved any significant amount – the result of short-staffing and consequently long lines at the check-outs and pretty much zero customer service. Overall, Amazon prices are comparable to the prices at Cub, Target, Walmart and Trader Joe’s, and much lower than the prices at Byerly’s and Kowalski’s. And the overall selection of items in the Amazon warehouse is superior to the inventory in any of the chain stores.

    None of these highway-oriented chain stores is within what I’d call easy walking or biking distance from where I live, the closest being one of the Aldi’s that’s about a mile away on a nasty stretch of Rice Street near the intersection with Hwy 36. So, evil as it may or may not be, if my 4 or more Cubs, 2 Aldi’s, 2 Targets, 2 Walmarts, a Trader Joe’s, a Byerly’s and couple Kowalski’s all disappeared tomorrow, I wouldn’t miss any of them one bit, as long as I could continue my Amazon service. I’d much rather have Amazon delivery drivers bringing me my groceries than have to drive into and out of some gargantuan parking lot for the pleasure of shopping in some highway-facing big box store.

  4. Ian R Buck

    I would be interested in a comparison of curbside pickup options. I have been avoiding using delivery options because 1) the delivery fee tends to be higher, and 2) none of them will deliver by bike. I know that Aldi just charges a $2 fee on each order, but I don’t know if other stores scale the fee based on how much you are buying.

    1. Conrad ZbikowskiConrad

      But Ian, that means I can’t do the writing all from the comfort of my home computer! 🙂

      1. Ian R Buck

        At this time of year, I would expect you to revel in the chance to get outside! One of my post-pandemic plans is to visit every Aldi inside the 694/494 loop so I can write an article ranking them. 😆

        1. Sheldon Gitis

          You going to ride your bicycle to all the Aldi’s? Planning on walking or biking to more than 1? Why would anyone drive out of the way to shop at a “better” Aldi’s?

            1. Sheldon Gitis

              You’re joking, right? If you did ride to all the Aldi’s, you probably could visit a good share of all the Cubs and Targets and Walmarts too. They’re all, for the most part, located in the same highway-hellhole, pedestrian and bicycle wasteland, locations.

              1. Bill LindekeBill LindekeModerator  

                Ian bikes to Aldi’s all the time. He goes right past my house to get there, so I see him with his bags. I also bike or walk to the Aldi’s. It’s right next to the Green Line station. We could ride to the nicer Aldi’s. It’s also very bikeable from Frogtown. I haven’t done it yet but it’s pretty easy. I’m happy with my current bikeable Aldi’s.

                1. Sheldon Gitis

                  That’s great that you and Ian have 1 Aldi’s within walking/biking distance. The topic of discussion, however, is the concept of getting to and from all the other 25 or so Aldi’s dotting the Twin Cities metro highways for comparison shopping or some other odd reason.

                  1. Serafina ScheelSerafina

                    I’ve biked to Aldi in four locations: the two on Lake Street, Franklin Avenue, and 26th St.

                    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                      The one in Richfield on Penn isn’t that bad to bike to either (not that I have). Franklin, the one west of Hiawatha on Lake and the Penn Ave one all have last few block challenges, but you can get there without much trouble. The Wedge one and the one east of Hiawatha on Lake have bike facilities that go directly there.

                2. Ian R Buck

                  Get ready for betrayal, Bill; I’ve been shopping at the new Aldi at Lexington & Larpenteur. Better selection, and also the one on University doesn’t offer curbside pickup.

                  1. Bill LindekeBill LindekeModerator  

                    I will have to get over there one of these days and check it out! Your preferred route? Do you take the Lexington side path and cut through the park?

              2. Ian R Buck

                It’s going to have a similar energy as Dan Marshall’s article ranking the I-94 crossings in the Twin Cities. It’s not like that article is going to convince me to use a crossing over in Minneapolis if I’m traveling in St Paul. It’s more about identifying where we’re doing well and where we need to improve. As you say, a lot of grocery stores are located in awful locations, but some are not, and I want to celebrate those ones.
                And sure, I could visit other store chains as well, but Aldi is my favorite. I’m not comparing different chains to each other, Conrad already did that.

                1. Sheldon Gitis

                  Good luck getting to and from all 25 or so within the beltway. I know there are lots of places – almost anyplace – I’d rather be biking than to the Aldi’s in my neck of the woods in Roseville.

                  My point about comparing all the Aldi’s with all the Cubs and all the Targets and all Walmarts was that all the supermarket chains, for the most part, are all in the same highway hellhole locations. I wouldn’t suggest you visit all the Cubs or all the Targets or all Walmarts any more than I’d recommend biking to all 25 or so Aldi’s.

  5. Ian R Buck

    One aspect of the experience of ordering for delivery or pickup is how often items you put in your cart have to be substituted for similar products. I have heard from friends who have been using Cub and Target’s online shopping options that this happens quite frequently to them. I have been ordering from Aldi, and have only had that happen once so far (no doubt an advantage of the fact that Aldi carries very few brands, mostly store brands). Would love to see data on that, but it’s much harder to measure.

  6. Brian H

    I deliver for Doordash & I can say without reservation that if you are in the greater twin cities and order online from Chipotle, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens or Kowalski’s, we’ll deliver it to you.
    Minneapolis is covered by the Bloomington, Brooklyn Center and Roseville Walmarts btw

  7. Serafina ScheelSerafina

    I swear I spend more time shopping when I order by app than I do just swinging to Aldi or Fresh Thyme to shop on my way home from somewhere. I must be old, because it’s always a frustrating experience. There’s inevitable back-and-forth on substitutions, and some mysterious extra items get delivered or disappear. And the one time I ordered fish from Whole Foods this summer, the app helpfully let me track the hour and a half it spent commuting from Maple Grove (?!) to Prospect Park. I should have known it was a bad idea.

    Thanks, Conrad, for the updated pricing and new considerations for 2021!

  8. Trademark

    Im an instacart driver (Only reason I even have a car). I know the number one issue for people is when the store is out of an item (A good delivery person should always ask before making a replacement) the best stores for having availability are Costco/Sam’s Club (Far and away best inventory), Lunds & Byerlys, Hy-Vee, Aldi (Except for Aldi’s finds item), Fresh Thyme, Cub (Cub is especially bad for inventory before noon as they are still stocking shelves all morning).

    If you use instacart please help your delivery driver by staying by your phone. Its very risky to make replacements without customer approval, it puts the shopper in a tough position to guess and the wrong decision could give us a bad rating or if we decide to refund an item it could be a bad rating. Even a 4 star rating could plunge us into instacart hell which will half our income for a week or two. Also, most of the time they give up to 3 orders at a time so if it takes a little while from when we check out to when you get your order that’s usually why. (That’s why i always message when im done and how many orders are ahead of you).

    Instacart definitely beats working in the warehouses and other manuel labor jobs ive done for years. But screw their labor practices, terrible customer support (Which once failed to reimburse me $400), reliance on the rating system which has us walking on a tight rope, and lack of quality insurance options. I don’t want to do this forever. Reading this blog has been one of things that inspired me to go back to school to study Transportation Planning and hopefully I will be able to retire from the gig economy soon.

    1. Conrad ZbikowskiConrad

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I am excited to hear you are interested in studying Transportation Planning and we were an inspiration there! As a frontline worker, you definitely have a frontline perspective on how transportation and the retail sector are intertwined. Stay warm and stay well!

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