Is FreshDirect Good For You ?

Image Copyrights: The Gothamist

FreshDirect trucks plying all around the city is now a city staple. Like the yellow cab and the hotdog vendor it is part and parcel of New York life. When FreshDirect started out, it served Manhattan initially and slowly spread to the outer boroughs. This inspite of the fact that its warehouse and facilities are in Queens.

Since then it has followed an arbitrary pattern of opting neighborhoods into its delivery zone. Many parts of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx are not yet served by FreshDirect.

These are neighborhoods that FreshDirect deems underserved, or in plain terms…not worth the bother.

Bed-Stuy my old neighborhood is one such place. It borders Williamsburgh and Clinton Hill but FreshDirect wont go there. And this has riled a lot of residents, who are venting their frustration on this discussion board.

As one poster to the board writes

….they had the nerve to have a subway ad in the Myrtle-Willoughby train station and they don’t even deliver here!….And what’s more insulting is that I think some of the people around here actually WORK for Fresh Direct! Evil or Very Mad Fresh Direct can go directly to hell.

Having ordered from FreshDirect initially when they started out, I was baffled by the number of boxes they used to pack things. Groceries worth 40$ came in 5 boxes. And after I unpacked, I had to discard the boxes. There was no system of returning them to FreshDirect to be recycled.

Also the trucks park all over my neighborhood and are idling all the time. Each delivery takes about 10-15 minutes from the time the driver stops to the time he pulls out of his illegal double parking spot. Is an idling diesel engine good for the environment. I can understand that it is necessary that the refrigeration units stay chilled but that does not mean that I, living on the first floor breathe the exhaust directly aimed at my window. And all that because one of my neighbors wants to eat healthy.

As much as organic healthy food is necessary for a nation of people battling obesity and all kinds of related health conditions, FreshDirect may not be right answer. At what cost does one demand convenience ?

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5 responses to “Is FreshDirect Good For You ?”

  1. Freshdirect is headquartered in Queens because it’s a large industrial operation requiring acres of refrigerated warehouses, parking for all those trucks, etc (akin to the new Fulton Fish Market in Hunts Point, Bronx).

    Its expansion plans are far from arbitrary — they first began serving the low-hanging fruit (the pockets of concentrated wealth in Manhattan) and are gradually moving farther afield where demographic research/customer feedback, etc suggests they will find a sufficient number of customers to justify an additional delivery route.

    Bed-Stuy is still largely a poor area, and so there is evidently not enough business there (by their own criteria) to support its inclusion. Perhaps the chatter on that message board will convince them to take another look. On the other hand, Clinton Hill and Williamsburg have both seen a large influx of wealthier residents (who tend to be both more comfortable with internet shopping and more likely to be “foodies”). Freshdirect is a private business and certainly can’t be expected to expand into marginal (for them) areas, or singlehandedly serve all 321 square miles of New York City.

    Needless to say, all 321 square miles are stuffed with people eating, but perhaps not eating in the manner of Freshdirect’s target audience. Finding groceries in the ghetto is a chicken/egg situation…if there’s demand, the supply will emerge to serve it. In the absence of demand for quality grocers, you have bodegas. As for the environmental angle, as you point out, the trucks must stay cold, thus the idling engines.

    This is the one of the filthiest, most densely populated, industrialized places on earth. For the life of me I cannot understand why so many people with environmental concerns choose to make it home. I just put the boxes out with my normal recycling, and assume that the packaging is just a reflection of the logistics of getting thousands of orders out the door every morning.

    For those of us in Clinton Hill and elsewhere that are currently served, it’s appeal results from a combination of convenience, quality of product, and price. A winning combo..

  2. I think there are valid criticisms of Fresh Direct, but energy concerns have to be weighed against those of chain grocery stores.

    The Fresh Direct truck doesn’t idle when it delivers to my house in Clinton Hill. They have come under a lot of criticism for their idling trucks and it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re trying to do something about it.

    While we’re at it, I wouldn’t mind if the 18 wheelers on my corner at the Associated Supermarket also stopped idling while they unload, which I assume takes much longer than a Fresh Direct delivery. (and their trucks are much larger)

    Are cardboard boxes any worse than the plastic bags that litter my neighborhood? I watch people ask for double bags on something that can’t weigh more than an ounce.

    Are Fresh Direct trucks any more polluting than people who drive themselves to the grocery store? B/c I bet there’s more of the latter than there are of the former.

    How much energy and pollution do grocery stores create through air conditioning, heating, cleaning, upkeep and refuse?

    There are two sides to this issue and sometimes I don’t feel people present both of them.

  3. Yes. Fresh Direct trucks are vastly more polluting than people who drive themselves to the grocery store. But few understand why. Here is the reason.

    FreshDirect trucks, like most delivery vehicles, use a separate diesel motor to drive a refrigeration unit. Even if the truck is not idling (as required by NY law and Federal court orders) the refrigeration unit almost always is.

    So what, you ask? A motor is a motor, right? Why’s a refrigeration unit worse than a car engine? The answer is that diesel refrigeration units are not considered “motor vehicles” and thus are not subject to pollution controls. Worse, though diesel itself in the US has been dramatically cleaned up so it pollutes less, by refining the fuel more to remove sulfur, reefers are allowed to burn unregulated “red diesel” which is much less refined and thus makes more pollution.

    Most of the interior of a Fresh Direct truck is filled with empty space — either where there are no boxes, or the empty space inside the 6,000 boxes Fresh Direct uses for each order. That semi-trailer you see full of stuff for your local supermarket is not packed that way, because grocery margins are sufficiently slim that they must pack the trucks efficiently. Once the food is inside the store it is cooled by radically more efficient electric refrigeration systems, the energy for which is generated by power plants whose emissions are, once again, heavily controlled.

    Most New Yorkers *walk* to the supermarket to get groceries, so that’s the sum total (wholesale delivery truck plus store refrigeration) of the pollution created by refrigerating their stuff. Even if the customers drive, it’s almost impossible for Fresh Direct to come out ahead because diesel refrigerators are so inefficient, their trucks are so loosely packed, and they burn dirty “red diesel”.

    And that’s the bottom line on that. If the city banned the sale or use of “red diesel” and forbade trucks from running their reefer units while the main engine was shut off, Fresh Direct would pack their trucks more densely, switch to more efficient electrical reefers run from the main truck engine, and insulate their trucks better. But they don’t have to, so they don’t do it — surprise surprise.