Thrive Market Delivers all Our Favorite Groceries With a Low-Price Guarantee
This grocery subscription service ticks a lot of boxes for the conscious consumer.
Updated Sept. 19, 2023 5:40 a.m. PT
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Reviews ethics statement
Pamela is a freelance food and travel writer based in Astoria, Queens. While she writes about most things edible and potable (and accessories dedicated to those topics,) her real areas of expertise are cheese, chocolate, cooking and wine. She's a culinary school grad, certified sommelier, former bartender and fine dining captain with 10 years in the industry. When not sitting at the keys, she leads in-home cheese classes, wine tastings and cocktail demonstrations.
When you're busy, putting three square meals together can feel like a vacuum of your precious time and energy. Grocery shopping is a big part of the effort to feed ourselves, but a flurry of convenient grocery delivery services has emerged, promising to take the lion's share of the effort.
Thrive Market is one such service that promises members (membership starts at $5 a month) monthly boxes of quality groceries sourced from ethical producers and delivered to you with just a few clicks. And all this with prices that are as good or better than you'll find in your local supermarkets.
I tried Thrive Market, a membership-only grocery service, and my overall impression was that it indeed delivers on its core promise of offering well-curated food staples at competitive prices. It's not a perfect system but a nonetheless valuable one for consumers who are trying to feel better about their grocery purchases without having to go deep into labels and websites to find ethically conscious brands.
Here's everything you need to know about Thrive Market's grocery delivery service and whether or not it's worth the $5 each month to join up.
Snapshot of Thrive Market
Service: Subscription-based grocery delivery.
Products: Over 5,500 vetted products with high health and sustainability scores, searchable according to various diet types as well as consumer ethics and values.
Regional availability: Continental US.
Cost: The annual membership fee starts at $60. Thrive offers dynamic pricing per item with a low-price guarantee. Shipping is free when purchase minimums are met.
What is Thrive Market?
Thrive Market is a B Corp-certified, membership-based grocery delivery service whose mission is to make healthy and sustainable groceries available to American families at fair prices. The company has grown exponentially since its founding in 2014, demonstrating that there is an increasing demand for groceries that consumers can feel good about, not only in terms of health but also in values such as transparency and sustainability. Shopping at Thrive Market works like any online grocery delivery platform such as Instacart, but there's a built-in reassurance that products have been vetted according to numerous health, social, and environmental values.
How it works
For a monthly or yearly membership fee, Thrive Market members can shop via the platform primarily for pantry and frozen staples, which come with a low-price guarantee. (More on that below.) The platform also includes other household staples such as beauty, bath and body, vitamins and supplements, and even wine. (This is absolutely a staple.) There is a lengthy questionnaire when you first visit the site so that it can curate suggestions for you, but this is optional and skippable if you just want to get browsing.
Members are automatically signed up for a monthly auto-ship feature based on your first order, unless you manually turn off auto-ship or make adjustments to items in your cart. (You can have groceries delivered more often than monthly as well.) Fresh produce and refrigerated items such as dairy products aren't included in Thrive's inventory. Some perishable items that you wouldn't typically buy frozen but that have a good tolerance for freezing such as bread are included, however. While I had to shop separately for things such as fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, and eggs, I did find that the selection at Thrive was more than sufficient to provide a lot of great options for pantry staples, including their own proprietary brand of more than 700 items, snacks, and especially for frozen proteins and meals.
Groceries arrive via ground transportation approximately two to three days after orders are placed or auto-ship is scheduled. Members receive shipments in two separate boxes, one for shelf-stable items and one for frozen items. In accordance with their stated values, packaging was kept minimal and as recyclable as possible.
Browsing for staples is easy
Thrive Market members can shop among the more than 5,500 curated items on the platform just as you would for other online grocery delivery services by either browsing among categories or searching for specific items. It can be challenging to shop for groceries online on any platform -- with or without a grocery list we all tend to gravitate toward what we can physically see in a grocery store. Thrive's items are categorized by common grocery aisle headings, however, and are frequently cross-listed among various categories so it's easy to find what you want. Thrive also offers several bundles of products that you can order with one click such as the Mediterranean Diet Shopping List, or the Paleo Meat and Seafood Bundle.
Numerous well-known brands such as Annie's, Rao's, Snack Factory, and Applegate are included among Thrive's offerings, but it's also a good opportunity to get to know smaller brands that are similarly value-driven.
A common complaint about Thrive Market on social media, for whatever that's worth, was that it's impossible to browse Thrive's inventory without signing up for a membership first, so you can decide if the service is actually a fit for you. While this was true of its website, you can bypass purchasing a membership in order to view the inventory by downloading its app. Either way, there's a little bit of commitment necessary even just to look, but it isn't necessarily a financial commitment.
You can filter items according to ethics and values
You can also search for items on Thrive Market by numerous values -- not only by diet, but also by ethos-driven factors such as fair trade, non-GMO, certified B-corporation or plastic neutral. Thrive's inventory is further cataloged by 11 different diet types, 17 different certifications and awards, 40 different health and ingredient markers (low fat, high fiber, preservative-free) and 28 different environmental and social impacts (recycled packaging, BIPOC-owned).
Basically, you really get the idea that they've done their homework. This is ultimately the biggest reason to opt in if you have numerous health and ethical concerns when it comes to grocery shopping: Thrive's transparency and thorough approach in what they're doing definitely inspires trust in the business.
Thrive Market cost: Membership, pricing, shipping
Annual membership for Thrive Market is $60, which you pay upfront. Memberships billed monthly are offered for $12. At more than twice the cost, the annual membership is really worth it, especially since it works out to only $5 per month, which you will easily save in one order. Based on my experience, you may save $5 with just two items.
Items in Thrive's inventory are priced dynamically and are ever-changing, presumably to keep up with its low-cost guarantee. Items frequently show a price reduction, and some are listed as being on sale, though it's unclear how this is different than those that are just shown as having a reduced price. (You can also search by the sale feature if price is your primary concern.)
As you shop for items, they are sorted either into your pantry box or frozen box, as they will be shipped separately. You are eligible for free shipping once your pantry box hits $49 and your frozen box hits $120, both of which are pretty reasonable targets if you're indeed shopping for a month's worth of staples. Frozen proteins are frequently sold in bulk quantities. If you continue with the monthly auto-ship feature, additional discounts are offered on certain items.
There is an optional fee of $1.95 that gets tacked onto your order for "worker health and safety." It's sort of confusing, maybe even alarming, that this should be an additional cost given the company's overall mission, but it's one that's easy to opt out of. Since it was only about 1% of my total order, I wasn't all that bothered, and I'd even go so far as to say I felt a little warm and fuzzy about it when it first popped up before I decided to overthink it.
The low-cost guarantee is potentially the most interesting aspect of Thrive's business model, but it's one that puts the onus on the consumer, unfortunately. Basically, you have to be prepared to comparison shop while you are browsing Thrive's inventory, and submit photos or links only after you've submitted your order to prove that a lower price was available for the identical item elsewhere. After review, the difference in price is credited to you as store credit, up to $20 per order or the difference for 10 items, whichever hits first. You must match the product exactly in terms of brand and size, and it must be in stock where you are providing the comparative price. Frankly, Thrive is probably banking on you not going through the trouble.
Does Thrive Market's low-price guarantee hold water?
That being said, of the about 30 items I ordered from Thrive, I honestly couldn't find a higher price among any of the comparable items I spot-checked at numerous stores in my area via Instacart. Several were up to 30% less at Thrive than could be found in my area. (They are basically giving away Rao's marinara, as far as I could tell. Even Aldi was pricier.) As I live in New York City, it's worth noting that groceries may be generally less expensive where you live, and therefore may be more worth the price review. Having done it once -- and admittedly as someone who has written several "I did the math" price-comparison pieces -- this is actually fun for me -- what I found inspired trust enough that Thrive's prices are probably lowest for this caliber of groceries most of the time. I doubt I'd bother to check again. If you're hitting the free shipping targets every month, then you're definitely saving money overall.
Who is Thrive Market good for?
Thrive Market is best suited for people who wish to shop for better-for-you groceries along the lines of both health and social/environmental issues and especially for those on particular diets or who have allergy restrictions. There's reassurance built into the program not only that the products have been thoroughly vetted, as well as a fair price.
Who is Thrive Market not good for?
Thrive Market is a purveyor of better-for-you, high-quality groceries, which are ultimately more expensive compared to conventional, big-business products. While Thrive offers the best prices for their inventory, if you're looking for cheap groceries in general, you'll probably have some sticker shock here. Since Thrive rewards those who hit purchase minimums with free shipping, it's also potentially less than ideal for those with limited storage space who need to shop for less more often. A few of the most basic pantry staples required a minimum purchase of two units, and a lot of the frozen meat options are in larger quantities.
Final verdict on Thrive Market
Thrive Market is very clear on what they are about: ethically sourced, better-for-you products at affordable prices, and they do indeed inspire confidence that they deliver on that promise. I doubt any company goes further in cataloging their inventory so it's possible to search among a number of health and environmental factors. If you've been becoming more concerned about the provenance of your groceries, or even if you're just looking to dabble in Whole 30, Thrive Market is well worth checking out.