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AmazonFresh, Drones, Plated and Pizza Buttons: Food Delivery in the 21st Century

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AmazonFresh announced its arrival in San Francisco this week.
AmazonFresh announced its arrival in San Francisco this week.

On Tuesday, Amazon announced the launch of AmazonFresh -- its new grocery service -- in San Francisco. The service joins a wealth of start-up food delivery companies that are hoping to capitalize on the tech-hungry and food-crazed Bay Area.

Internet-based food delivery isn't new. In 1996, Peapod became one of the earliest web start-ups with online food delivery from grocery stores. It continues to be the largest online food delivery out there. Webvan, a Silicon Valley-based online grocery business, was founded in the late 1990s, but went bankrupt in 2001 when spending on infrastructure far exceeded profit. Today, that continues to be a problem in the business. But, both those companies look nearly antiquated now with what new companies are proposing. Drones dropping off your take-out?

AmazonFresh is essentially capitalizing on the delivery services that Amazon already operates. In addition to delivering groceries to your home -- which can often be a money-losing business -- Amazon will deliver high-priced electronics and other goods at the same time and with the same trucks. The fear of many grocery stores is that AmazonFresh will be a loss-leader for other Amazon products and will drive local grocery stores out of business. AmazonFresh already launched in Los Angeles and Seattle and has hinted that it'll be in 20 more cities next year, according to Reuters.

There's a free 30-day trial for select zip codes in San Francisco right now; otherwise, it costs $299/year. That includes same-day free delivery for orders over $35. You can get groceries, food right from local restaurants and sync recipes to your delivery list.

Of course, Amazon isn't the only company trying to figure out the food delivery business. Walmart To Go has also been testing same-day grocery delivery throughout the Bay Area for the last two years and is now expanding beyond California. Google announced in September its Shopping Express service, which delivers within a few hours for $5 from a number of stores, is available throughout the Bay Area. Instacart is another local same-day food delivery start-up that has popped up. And LolaBee's Harvest, an online farmers market recently was acquired by Good Eggs, which delivers from farms and foodmakers.


But, getting the food is only half the cooking battle.

Plated delivers ingredients and recipes for customers to whip up their own meals.
Plated delivers ingredients and recipes for customers to whip up their own meals.

Plated, which delivers fresh ingredients for specific recipes straight to your home, came out of a New York start-up accelerator and expanded to San Francisco in September. Menus are posted from professional chefs and you pick which you want the ingredients to try for $15/plate.

Plated will have to compete in San Francisco with Blue Apron, which started here and is $10/plate. Both start-ups offer different menu options and let you pick which and how many meals you want to try in a week. Platejoy does a similar delivery, but has you fill out a survey first and suggest healthy recipes you might like to try.

What if you don't want to cook, though? Fortunately, San Francisco is the incubator for virtually all tech start-ups, meaning we have more than a few food delivery companies testing out the waters. SpoonRocket, just $6/day, and Munchery deliver completed, cooked meals. Or, get healthy finished meals delivered by Sprig.

Or, why not try an emergency pizza button?

The PiePal is designed to deliver a pre-programmed pizza from Domino's at the press of a single large button, according to NPR. That means all you have to do when the mood strikes late at night is press the large button. Just don't press it on accident or you might be stuck with a large pizza you didn't want. While the PiePal is not for sale, you can sign up right now as a beta "taster."

Of course, if you think you can manage to operate an actual app when the late-night munchies strike, then there are more then a few restaurant delivery technologies to use.

The restaurant delivery market is a crowded space right now. Just look at TechCrunch's "food delivery" section to get a sense of how many start-ups how to be THE go-to when you want food from that Chinese place on the other side of town.

Grubhub and Seamless, the two biggest delivery apps, merged earlier this year to become one massive food delivery app. Enter your order on your phone and, as long as you're willing to pay a fee for the deliver and a slightly higher price for the food (and sometimes meet a minimum order requirement), you'll get your food from places that may not deliver. The apps are becoming mainstream enough that problems -- like placing an order that never comes (!) -- are becoming more rare.

Plenty of other tech companies are offering their own variety on online restaurant delivery. Caviar partners with restaurants in San Francisco -- and now Seattle and New York -- to bump their orders to the front of the line and offer exclusive items. Eat 24 provides delivery, based on where you live and what you want. Zesty delivers only the healthy options from restaurants. If you're in Silicon Valley or Mountain View, you have even more options -- Door Dash or Fluc.

You can even order regional specials, like deep-dish pizza from Chicago or chili from Cincinnati, and have it delivered around the country with Goldbely.

Instead of a truck, will that food be delivered via drone soon? According to The LA Times, along with the much-publicized Amazon drones, Google and UPS are testing drones and robotic helicopters to make home delivery. It may not be long before you can press the emergency pizza button and have a mini-helicopter drop off the fresh snack right at your doorstep. Or, of course, you could just pick up the phone and have them deliver the old-fashioned way.

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