Fresh Direct Responds to Environmental Critics

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FreshDirect, the company that has built a grocery empire, in part, by using New York City’s free, public streets as their virtual warehouse, sent out an e-mail yesterday to let customers know of five new environmental initiatives the company is undertaking. While the company’s non-union truck drivers may still be double-parking, creating traffic congestion and driving recklessly through your neighborhood, rest assured that their trucks’ tailpipe emissions will smell more like greasy Chinese food than diesel particulate matter:

1. CUTTING EMISSIONS FROM OUR DELIVERY TRUCKS.

We love that our trucks have become a mass transit system for food, each one replacing the many cars and cabs that would otherwise be used to bring families and food together. We’re committed to making our trucks as clean-burning and low-impact as possible.
FreshDirect has partnered with Tri-State Biodiesel, a NYC-based company dedicated to providing the region with clean, renewable biodiesel sources. Tri-State uses cooking oil donated from our kitchen for use in non-toxic diesel fuel. In the next year, we plan to initiate biodiesel use in 100% of our delivery fleet. This action will both reduce emissions and cut back our use of fossil fuel products.
Additionally, we are working with the city to identify locations for electrical outlets so we can plug in our trucks and refrigerate using electric engines. We hope to have our first plug-in truck in mid-2008.

2. REDUCING THE AMOUNT OF WASTE WE PRODUCE.

We recently switched our delivery boxes in favor of boxes that use 100% recycled fiber content – no virgin fibers are needed in any FreshDirect box. We’re proud to announce that within the next 3 years, we’ll eliminate nearly all of our cardboard delivery boxes, replacing them with recyclable plastic totes and grocery bags. Since our facility was designed with cardboard boxes in mind, switching our systems will involve a complex re-engineering process.

3. FEEDING OUR NEEDIEST NEIGHBORS.

We work hard to make sure that surplus food doesn’t go to waste. Accordingly, FreshDirect is one of City Harvest’s largest food suppliers, helping them to feed New York’s neediest.

4. INCREASING THE AMOUNT OF LOCAL PRODUCTS WE SELL.

Forging partnerships with good people doing good work has been a FreshDirect hallmark for years, and few companies sell more local products. Buying from farms, orchards, dairies and fisheries in the Tri-state area reduces the use of fossil fuels, supports artisanal craftsmanship and stimulates our local economy.

5. PROVIDING EVEN MORE INFORMATION TO HELP CUSTOMERS MAKE INFORMED CHOICES.

Environmental choices are often complicated, highly personal decisions. That’s why FreshDirect believes in offering customers the opportunity to make informed choices for themselves and their families. We will continue to deliver on that commitment by looking for new ways to deliver quality food alongside thorough information. In the coming year, we’ll work to increase our selection of fish certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Photo: Lzplksk / Flickr

  • nobody

    Blah blah blah… all this to distract from the larger issue — they are replacing walking/biking trips with truck trips.

    And, does this mean they stop parking in bike lanes?:

    http://nyc.mybikelane.com/?tag=fresh+direct
    http://nyc.mybikelane.com/?tag=freshdirect

  • steve
  • John Hunka

    6. ORDERING OUR EMPLOYEES NOT TO DOUBLE PARK DELIVERY TRUCKS IN BIKE LANES!!!!
    In addition, Fresh Direct should tell its truck drivers to stop double parking in bike lanes. It’s rude and inconsiderate of Fresh Direct drivers to double park in the bike lane when they could just as easily pull up to the curb across the street.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Anyone know the energy cost of different methods of delivering food — home delivery vs. trips to the grocery store?

    Of course if you could walk to the grocery store that’s one thing, but smaller stores require smaller deliveries, which means more of them too.

    It could depend on how efficient the delivery routes are, both to stores and to homes. It is an interesting question, and may vary by type of good.

  • We shopped Fresh Direct enthusiastically until they raised the minimum order amount beyond what was practical for us. I’ve always thought that environmental criticism of the company was a little shallow. The picture above is a choice one. Is Fresh Direct the biggest abuser of our street space, or the two personal cars and one SUV filling the foreground? At least F.D. serves city residents, and takes care of one of the biggest personal car excuses people have, carrying groceries. And as far as waste goes, I’m confidant that a household can do better overall by making meals from basic ingredients that come in a F.D. box than by consuming styrofoam-packaged delivery and assorted packaged and prepared foods from the deli. Fresh Direct makes it possible for more New Yorkers to cook real food, by offering more varied ingredients than we can find within five blocks (and pricing them somewhere below the stratosphere).

    What we should do is petition the company to commit to safe driving and respect for bicycle lanes. It would be a piece of cake, really. (Who does their P.R.? We can do this the easy way or the hard way, etc.) If they’d make such a gesture, I might be moved to try to accumulate $50 orders. But denying that their business has any right to exist–a food delivery business in New York, imagine that!–is not going to improve things in the slightest.

  • Spud Spudly

    6. OUR TRUCKS SHALL NOT IDLE THEIR ENGINES WHILE STOPPED.

    The city prohibits engine idling for more than three minutes when a vehicle is stopped. However, the idling law allows idling if it’s necessary to operate equipment, which in Fresh Direct’s case is the cooling device for their refrigerated trucks. But those idling Fresh Direct engines fill up the air with fumes. They congregate almost every day on the west side of Columbus near 93rd Street and it really stinks.

  • re: #5, “all so some of the entitled will not be inconvenienced”

    the “entitled” tend to live within walking distance of high-quality groceries (ironically often at lower prices than less “entitled” folks pay for crap). in neighborhoods where such amenities are not plentiful, fresh direct is a really good option, especially for people who have little time to shop. switching their trucks to biodiesel and phasing out unnecessary packaging is a pretty major statement, though they obviously have other issues to address.

  • momos

    “We love that our trucks have become a mass transit system for food, each one replacing the many cars and cabs that would otherwise be used to bring families and food together.”

    The spin leaves one dizzy.

    In Manhattan, where Fresh Direct does most of its business, it is simply false to declare a dichotomy of individual car trips to the store versus “mass transit” truck delivery. In fact, it’s individual walking/subway trips to the store versus truck delivery.

    It’s nice they’re switching to bio diesel, but this smacks of greenwashing. And despite their smooth talk about corporate social responsibility, they’re anti-union and pay their warehouse workers $7.60 – $8.25/hr.

  • d

    I’ve read that FD trucks actually do not idle with their engines running, but that the noise you hear is actually from the refrigeration unit in the truck, which is battery powered. Does anyone know if this is true or not?

  • Fresh Direct should be required to have their trucks deliver food to warehouses within walking distance of their customers – period. Frankly so should Fed-ex and UPS.

    Trucks should only be able to deliver to a commercial location (store or warehouse), then a FD employee can transport that by hand cart to the residences.

  • Dave H.

    There is a whole lot of spin in that release but, still, I think Doc Barnett is right on.

    Even if you think it would be better overall if Fresh Direct did not exist (which, as Doc points out, is not all that clear, even from an environmental/public space point of view), they aren’t going anywhere. No matter how many times you petition them to dissolve, they won’t. And people will still buy from them (though, you don’t have to).

    So why not avoid the impossible and, instead, stick to the higly probable by working with them to improve to the extent possible?

  • Quinn

    Ah if I get fresh direct I’ll smell the food I’m getting right before it comes to my house. But really Manhattanites (most manhattanites) don’t need this. You’re probably 3-10 blocks from a supermarket (Fairway, Food Emporium). They should only roll this out in the suburbs. That way no more sprawling space sucking Wal-Marts/Targets.

  • It looks like MacKenzie has the account: http://www.mackenzieagency.com/results/freshdirect.shtml

    With all the weight Streetsblog has these days, I don’t think they’d snub a request to work together on a safety campaign, something with some muscle (easy reporting and follow-up for violations). I mean, they’d be fools not to partner up. Safety! Blogs! Hot hot hot.

  • John Hunka

    This is a hypothesis based entirely on anecdotal evidence, but I suspect that a substantial percentage of Fresh Direct customers are people who: 1) live in walk-up apartment buildings; and 2)don’t feel like shlepping heavy bags of groceries up numerous flights of stairs. Such individuals let the FD delivery guys do the “heavy lifting,” so to speak.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Your hypothesis may or may not be correct, John, but every supermarket that I know in New York City offers free delivery. A lot of people who live in walkups or are unable to carry groceries (for whatever reason) use this service. This is identical to the system that Glenn proposed, and it’s probably where Fresh Direct gets a lot of their business.

    I agree with Doc and Dave that it would be good for Streetsblog to contact MacKenzie and try to get them to include respect for bike lanes as part of their greenwashing. But honestly, the sentence about FreshDirect being a “mass transit system for food” makes me want to (a) hurl (b) never buy from them, and (c) not have anything else to do with them. It’s so completely divorced from reality that whoever wrote it must be either clueless or a really nasty liar. I mean, their market researchers must know how many New Yorkers drive or take cabs to the supermarket as opposed to walking, cycling, taking the subway or ordering out. Right?

  • momos

    Angus – their egregious spin is rather devious. See post #9 by “d”: “I’ve read that FD trucks actually do not idle with their engines running, but that the noise you hear is actually from the refrigeration unit in the truck, which is battery powered.” That’s an FD talking point repeated in the City Room piece:

    “[Jim Moore, senior vice president for business affairs] said the company strictly enforces the no-idling rule. However, passers-by sometimes hear the hum of the refrigeration unit and mistakenly believe that the engine is idling, he said.”

    Nonsense. Anyone can tell the difference between a clattering diesel truck engine and an air conditioner.

  • Matt H

    It’s not clear to me that FreshDirect is an inherently less-ecological way of getting food to customers than a traditional supermarket. I don’t know one way or the other, but it could be a net win.

    Consider the fact that FreshDirect has no highly-inefficient refrigerated (or frozen!) display cases belching cold air out into their floor space, or small, odd-shaped spaces strewn across the city to heat in the winter and cool in the summer. (They have such spaces out in their warehouse facility, but they’re much larger and designed-to-suit. They can probably leave many of those rooms hotter in summer and colder in winter than a customer would care for, also.) They have different cool and cold rooms to store fresh and frozen goods at an optimal temperature. Since they’re delivering from one centralized location, they can manage their stock across aggregate demand rather than fragmenting it across dozens or hundreds of local spots with only intermittent ability to refresh stock. All in all, the FD model seems to have some points to recommend it. At the very least, I bet loss due to spoilage is much lower at FreshDirect than at the Food Emporium.

    As for delivery options from local supermarkets, that’s probably a wash too, ecologically. If you’re close, your grocery delivery can be done with a hand-truck, but if you’re far (and your order large) those groceries are getting to you via a company truck or van, and there are many fewer orders being delivered in that truck-trip than would be on a lightly-loaded FreshDirect truck. Kinda makes up for the fact that the FD truck is coming from Long Island City.

    I’m not saying I have real facts one way or the other here, but an _actual_ study would have to be done to see what the real tradeoff is here. FD _appears_ to be less ecological, superficially, but the actual data may or may not bear out that appearance.

    As for street use issues, parking in bike lanes, etc., this is exactly why we need to bring parking in this city up to market rates and add more loading zones! Let’s solve this particular problem in a general sort of way, rather than picking on particular violators.

    I’m not intending to be a FreshDirect apologist here — I probably haven’t used them in 8 months or so. I’m glad to hear they’re interested in expanding their local offerings, but they have a long way to go before they catch up with the farmer’s markets where I’ve largely taken my business in the past couple of years. (That’s _clearly_ the more ecological option than either FD or a traditional supermarket.)

  • gecko

    Regarding plugging in refrigeration trucks Fresh Direct may wish to contact the highly successful:

    New York State Truck Stop Electrification program

    http://www.nyserda.org/programs/transportation/truckstopelec.asp

    Joseph_D_Tario
    New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA)
    (518) 862-1090 x3215

  • Roscoe Munchman

    I am a long-time regular user of Fresh Direct, and I applaud their decision to replace their boxes, etc. But the true murdering of Mother Earth that they do actually takes place WITHIN their boxes. Every order contains piles of unrecyclable packaging crap: bananas wrapped in Styrofoam, plastic around all the frozen stuff, apples in Styrofoam or plastic packaging, etc. This is the stuff they need to get rid of, and they should not be allowed to get away with claiming that they’re environmentally friendly if they only address the box itself and not the landfill-bait with which they package its contents.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    As for delivery options from local supermarkets, that’s probably a wash too, ecologically. If you’re close, your grocery delivery can be done with a hand-truck, but if you’re far (and your order large) those groceries are getting to you via a company truck or van, and there are many fewer orders being delivered in that truck-trip than would be on a lightly-loaded FreshDirect truck.

    I’ve never heard of supermarkets delivering with a truck or van. The one near me delivers with shopping carts.

    FreshDirect may be more environmentally friendly than Costco, Pathmark, Whole Foods, or other supermarkets that are designed and built to be driven to. I agree that we’d have to see a study, but I find it hard to believe that local distribution by foot wouldn’t make up for any wasted heating and cooling issues. For one thing, in Manhattan most of the supermarkets are in apartment buildings, meaning that they benefit from the heating efficiency of large multi-story buildings.

  • steve

    D’ag, Gristedes, and Food Emporium all field vans for larger deliveries on the UES. Agree 100% that the plastic and foam inside the box is a far greater environmental concern than the boxes themselves. I have heard that FD uses this internal packaging b/c customers tend to exaggerate or fictionalize damage to obtain credits. FD’s business model scares me because it has eliminated most of the brick-and-mortar grocery options on the UES, Then began phasing out much of its fresh produce and raising prices.

  • eco wiz

    Since most of these trucks travel within a 100 mile radius they should be ELECTRIC and have ZERO emissions. Check out TESCO in England, now that is an energy conscious company.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (FreshDirect may be more environmentally friendly than Costco)

    Maybe. But Costco supplies in larger packages with no bags, so there is less packaging per unit of food, and fewer trips.

    I think the point here is that no one knows, including energy used by customers going to or from stores, energy used by delivery trucks, energy used in distribution, energy used in greater or lesser amounts of packaging, what is the most energy-efficient way to deliver food. This could even be expanded to energy used in cooking at home vs. microwaving pre-prepared (but packaged) meals.

    It is an interesting question.

  • Spud Spudly

    I know truck exhaust when I smell it. I also used to drive an ice cream truck (yes, I was the Good Humor man) so I know a little bit about truck refrigeration. Those Fresh Direct trucks are definitely idling their engines at least part of the time.

    If they’re not, then why do they include this statement at the end of point #1?:

    “Additionally, we are working with the city to identify locations for electrical outlets so we can plug in our trucks and refrigerate using electric engines. We hope to have our first plug-in truck in mid-2008.”

  • flp

    re. #19:

    yes! and this is on top of the packaging in which all the stuff arrived in when initially delivered to Fresh Direct warehouse.

  • v

    most of this food travels thousands of miles to reach you. by plane, boat, and truck. the last couple of miles may make a real difference to your nose and asthma (significant as those issues are), but they’re not the real gas guzzler / polluter.

  • Hilary

    Part of the FD agenda is to source more of the food locally.

  • N

    Their truck drivers are unionized – by the same Union that is losing union members due to Gristedes closing (UFCW)!

    And for refrigeration units, there are no refrigeration units that exist that are battery powered or electric yet. I bet if someone developed them food companies would start to use them…

  • Jeffrey

    Nice discussion. I recently heard about a new delivery company called breadnbrie.com. These guys deliver without trucks, they have their guys push a cart – that’s how i lerned about them. They also bring food from local stores and let me tell you, quality is fantastic. My wife also raved a about their packaing – no boxes, everything is well-packed. We will definitely switch from FD to breadnbrie.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Lots of good comments here. Larry, it seems to me that there are several different ways to get groceries in the city. There’s Community Supported Agriculture. There’s the old-style “lots of small shops” way where you get your veg at the farmer’s market, your bread at the local bakery, your meat at the local butcher, etc. There’s the traditional supermarket. There’s the supermarket-delivery. There’s Fresh Direct and now Bread-n-Brie. There’s the drive-to-the-big-box Costco/Fairway arrangement. There’s the people who never cook and whose refrigerators contain a six-pack of beer, a bag of Hershey’s Nuggets, a carton of beef with broccoli and a bottle of aspirin. Of course, a lot of people combine these approaches.

    We (or at least I) want to avoid the “old-school enviro” trap where we focus entirely on one kind of environmental damage. Yes, there’s energy consumption and resource consumption, and there’s pollution (with local effects like asthma and overflowing landfills, and global effects like warming and the North Pacific Trash Vortex), but there’s also congestion (local and citywide, particularly in bike lanes), wear and tear on the streets, and the effect of local jobs on the economy. Last but not least, there’s carnage.

    It’s a lot to consider, and any overall ranking will depend on your own priorities – whether you think the trash vortex is more important than peak oil, etc. And as V pointed out, whether you buy Chilean apples from Fresh Direct or FoodTown, they’re still coming all the way from Chile. To the extent that FreshDirect can combat that, it’s good, but Whole Foods is already doing it, and there’s no reason why Pathmark and Stop and Shop couldn’t too.

    I personally think that the big-box stores like Costco have no place in a city. I moved back here so that I could go to the supermarket without a car. If the FreshDirect hype were correct and most of their customers were people who would have otherwise driven to a supermarket, then that would be a net improvement, but it’s pretty obvious that these are mostly people who used to go to Gristede’s or D’Agostino’s.

    Jeffrey, thanks for the tip about Bread-n-Brie. I think it’s great that they deliver with pushcarts. They do use trucks to get stuff from their suppliers, FWIW. I’ll check them out.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Actually, UFCW has won a representation election but not a contract with Fresh Direct. However, higher wages and benefits for the workers will probably not translate into more environmentally friendly (and expensive) operating systems.

  • gecko

    Perhaps it’s time to bring back the “pedicabs for groceries”, those bike-driven trucks that small grocers used to deliver their goods which could sustainably increase the effectiveness of Fresh Direct and other large metropolitan stores.

    There was an article (possible NYT)about one West Village Jefferson Market grocer who did this for many years and was quite endearing.

  • v

    gecko –

    a tremendous idea for all the reasons angus mentions…and they could use separated bike lanes to get around.

  • Kristi

    The thing that suprises me the most is that they are going backwards when it comes to their packaging. How is moving from a cardboard box made from 100% recycled content to PLASTIC totes a good thing. It doesn’t matter if they are recyclable, the boxes are made from recycled fibres, can be recycled again, and will breakdown if it somehow ends up in the Hudson. A PLASTIC tote has to be manufactured from new materials, is recycled if the consumer chooses to do so, but is a threat to any wildlife it meets if it ends up blowing around the city.

  • Tyn

    NOISY!!!
    Do they have to use those huge trucks?
    Do they have to keep the engine on?
    Bad for the air, bad for local businesses, too.
    I cannot stand the whole concept of Fresh Direct!

  • I could not agree more. It’s disgusting. Every time I’ve contacted them about the exhaust, they respond to me saying ‘they’ll try to cut down on the noise’.

    I always write back saying ‘It’s a breathing problem, not a hearing problem’. And…well…you know the rest. I wish there was something I could do. Other than putting a banana in the exhaust pipe, I don’t know.

  • Sylvia Navon

    I wish I were as young and healthy as I assume some of the more arrogant commenters are. There are people who cannot walk around stores or to them. Fresh Direct makes grocery shopping a lot easier for me. If you have the time and are fit, you can do your own shopping. I can’t believe how many people are self righteous about such a service.

  • Shalom

    Living in Washington Heights and keeping kosher, I used to trek from 184th street down to Fairway, but it’s extraordinarily expensive and time consuming. The local grocery here (Keyfood) is the only place to get kosher meat, fish, or cheese, and the quality of all their products is beyond terrible. Frequenting bodegas for cheap, quality produce is ok for fruits and vegetables, but it’s also time consuming. As someone who travels extensively, I need to be sure food will be in my apartment the day I get back, so shopping FD on my iPhone while in Miami, knowing it will arrive when I arrive is super convenient. FD is my only option for getting certain foods here.

    As for the arguments for it overall:
    1) What about the elderly or sick who can’t shop?
    2) What about when it snows/rains and is hard to carry groceries?
    3) FD seems to be working on their environmental impact
    4) With a pre-programmed shopping list, FD cuts down my time searching for food in various stores.
    5) I can organize items by nutrition, price, or even kosher certification!

    For me, FD simply rocks. If Keyfood gets serious and provides what I need, I’ll start shopping there again. Until then, FD all the way!

  • Scott Lee

    I live on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan, and after many mornings and evenings of rattling Fresh Direct Trucks, I was so fed up, I emailed the CEO of the company directly, Rick Braddock – rbraddock@freshdirect.com

    See his arrogant reply below, date January 28th, 2011

    “Unfortunately, there is really not a solution to this. There are two sources of noise, the motor and the refrigeration unit. We have equipped all our trucks with technology which assures they are automatically turned off when the trucks are parked for delivery. As to the refrigeration unit, our service people are right that it is imperative that they remain on for food safety reasons. Our business is doing very well which I’m sure exacerbates the problem. Sorry, Rick Braddock”

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