July 15, 2013

Bountiful Baskets vs. Azure Standard and the local food market

During the last couple months, I've been hearing this quiet little buzz around town about a way to get fresh fruits and vegetables called Bountiful Baskets. I saw it on Facebook, heard about it from others, but mostly, people kept asking me about it. I suppose they thought I'd know since I try to be proactive when it comes to finding high quality food at a decent price.

Even I am a little surprised it took me so long to learn about it. It's basically a food co-op that delivers to Brookings once every two weeks. You can order a "basket" of food, half fruit, half vegetables, with no choice in what you get, and you can also add on other items, like boxes of seasonal fruits or multi-packs of bread. It's also possible to upgrade to an organic basket. Like most other co-ops, you have to be available on delivery day or have someone pick it up for you.

I decided to give it a shot back in May. The ordering cycle opens at 10:00am every other Monday. I had heard you needed to be quick to get a basket, but I wasn't quick enough and they were sold out in two minutes. Frustrating, I thought. I tried again the next week, thinking I was being smart by pre-copying my debit card number so I didn't have to waste time typing it in. Apparently that worked and I scored a basket. I upgraded to the organic option and also bought a package of five assorted breads.

When that basket came (I had to have a friend pick it up for me since we were out of town), I have to admit I was extremely disappointed. The amount of produce I got for my $25 was minimal, and some was regular grocery store brands that I can easily get at my local store. And unfortunately ALL the breads contained ingredients I generally try to avoid, like canola oil. Granted, they didn't list ingredients and I took a chance on the bread, but I was still hoping they would have at least tried to avoid genetically modified ingredients. 

More recently, I kept hearing rave reviews so decided to try it again, thinking maybe it would be better since we're farther into the growing season. Since I typically get most of my produce either locally or from Azure Standard, I thought I'd do a little review in case anyone is wondering or interested. Hopefully this will help you can decide if it's something you want to try. 

Keep in mind that I am reviewing the organic upgrade. There are certain vegetables that are grown conventionally that I try to avoid due to high pesticide residues and I didn't want to get stuck with a basket of those. It is very possible that those who get conventionally grown baskets have an entirely different experience.

This organic upgraded basket was $25 and included:
1 pkg cherry tomatoes
3 apples
1 plum
1 cantaloupe
1 honeydew
2 english cucumbers
1 onion
1 bag celery
1 bunch kale
1 small bunch broccolini
1 large head of romaine
1 head radicchio (I think??)

I had already cut up the cantaloupe and honeydew, but everything else is as it came.
It all seemed to be fresh except the kale:

This concerned me just a little, because kale is pretty hardy and lasts a long time when refrigerated, so it makes me wonder how fresh it really was.

Here's an estimated price for these same items from other sources (all organic, or grown organically):
1 pkg cherry tomatoes - HyVee or Azure, $5
3 apples - HyVee, $2
1 plum - Azure, $10/5lbs, $.50
1 cantaloupe - Local market, $4
1 honeydew - Local market, $4
2 english cucumbers - HyVee - $5
1 onion - HyVee, Azure, or local market - $.50
1 bag celery - HyVee or Azure - $2
1 bunch kale - Local market or Azure - $2
1 small bunch broccolini - HyVee or local market - $4
1 large head of romaine - Local market - $4
1 head radicchio (I think??) - no idea, I've never seen sold by itself anywhere, estimating $4

Total: $37

• This seems to be a savings of about $12.
• What we've eaten so far has been delicious.
• I also purchased 5 loaves of organic whole wheat bread for $12 which is a DEFINITE savings of about $12-$15 over organic bread in the store.

• You don't get to pick what you get.
• I would never buy some of these things, particularly radicchio. I also wouldn't worry about buying organic cantaloupe, honeydew or onions, and would purchase regular organic cucumbers over english ones so that would reduce my savings.
• The biggest con - I had to stand in the 90 degree sun for over an hour to pick up my basket. The initial pick up time was 3:00, then moved to 4:00, then 4:30 and I still had to wait in the sun for an hour. I've heard from others this is not uncommon. So you'd best be flexible and not mind waiting!

Final Verdict: I'm still not convinced this is as great as everyone says it is, although we did really enjoy the bread and felt like that is was very economical. At this point, I'm calling it a toss-up. I will probably keep an eye on the options and maybe try it one more time. Until then, I will continue to shop at the local farmer's market as much as possible. This time of year is a great time to get fresh produce there. The producers are local and work hard to bring a quality product. I appreciate that and would like to support them.

How about you? Have you tried Bountiful Baskets? What do you think?


  1. I LOVE Bountiful Baskets. My family is introduced to produce that we wouldn't otherwise purchase, offering variety and expanding our horizons. Wait times like that are not common in all areas - I wonder if they are getting enough volunteers? Bountiful Baskets volunteering is a good experience to get out in the community and help get the baskets set up quicker - I see a good number of friends and families grouping up to make the experience more enjoyable.

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