As every new week begins, I find myself planning for the week ahead. I have mouths to feed and lunches to pack and I don’t want to hit up the grocery store every single day. I just want fresh ingredients at a great price and if I am not using something immediately, I want it to last. The freshest food at fair prices. I have decided that I can’t spend so much precious time at the grocery store anymore especially since I have young kids and a five minute trip to the store can easily turn into half an hour. Online shopping is a service I have been taking advantage of more and more. Clothes, books, office supplies, and makeup are all items I purchase online. One category of products I haven’t bought online before are fresh food products. I have always wanted to try an online grocer, but just like many people, I was very skeptical about it. Penguin Fresh has given me the opportunity to use their service to see if it is something that could work for me.
Let’s take a step back because I know the first question you are asking yourself – what is Penguin Fresh? The people over at Penguin pick-up (a convenient pick-up centre for all of your online purchases) have revolutionized online grocery shopping and created Penguin Fresh. They have essentially eliminated the middle-man so your food goes from farm to food terminal to you grocery bags. Your food never waits in distribution centres or warehouses so the products get to you sooner which means they are always fresher. This is something that I really got excited about. Besides going to the farm yourself, this service is giving city dwellers access to farm fresh meat and produce as well as products that high-end restaurants use for their customers, but at regular, and in most cases cheaper, prices.
Penguin Fresh offers Online grocery delivery exclusively through Penguin Pick-up Locations which are equipped with refrigerators and freezers. This means there are no delivery fees! There are currently Penguin Pick-ups located in North York, Vaughan, Richmond Hill & Thornhill. They are always adding more pick up locations so head over to the website to see if there is one that works for you. Yes, you have to pick up your groceries but I never did like the idea of the groceries being left on my door step and not to mention the amount of packaging involved. The products available through Penguin Fresh are fruits, vegetables, Ontario meats and poultry, Deli, dairy and prepared meals.
The products available depend on which products are available in your pick-up area. So, as you choose a pick-up location on the website, the products that are available change as well simply because the suppliers are different. Persimmons, for example, were not available for Vaughan but were available in Thornhill. Some people may see this as an inconvenience but I think this is great for those of us who’s top priorities are farm fresh and local products.
If the item is pictured on the website, then it is in-stock! You never have to worry about being told at check-out that the items are unavailable. Penguin Fresh prices are also very competitive for fresher produce than you would get at the local supermarket, and in most cases cheaper. They source their products directly from wholesale companies who supply high end restaurants such as EverGreens Fine Fruits and Vegetables Inc. (a wholesaler that supplies Trump Hotel and Oliver & Bonacini). Another wholesaler they use is Sanagan’s Meat Locker. If high-end restaurants are buying these products, then you know they are of the highest quality.
I placed my order at 10pm on a regular Wednesday evening, after the kids had gone to sleep and when I was able to sit down and think about which groceries I needed. The problem of forgetting groceries due to kids side-tracking you at the grocery store – solved! The website was very user friendly. Setting up an account was just a matter of filling in some general information and a password and then I was well on my way. It was a very nice experience to click through all of the pages (fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy and prepared foods) and being able to see everything right in front of me on my screen instead of weaving in and out of aisles with a huge shopping cart. One little note – I had to remember to be mindful of how each item was priced as I was adding them to my cart since some items are priced by quantity and some are priced individually.
After my order was complete, I received an email outlining what I had purchased and letting me know that I will be receiving another email when my order would be ready for pick-up. I placed my order at 10pm the night before and by about 1pm the next day I received the email that my order was ready to be picked up. Once you receive your email notification that your order is ready for pick-up, you simply go to your designated pick-up centre, park in the designated Penguin Pick-up parking spots and and an associate will serve you in 90 seconds or less.
My pick up location was 3200 Hwy 7. One problem that I had with this pick-up location is that this area of Vaughan is one that I typically avoid due to a massive construction project underway there. For now, it is a high traffic construction zone and I am not sure how long this area will be like this for. I couldn’t see the pick-up kiosk from the road so I google mapped the address and the GPS tried to lead me in circles which tells me that GPS had trouble reading the temporary location. I know this will be a part-time problem until the area is all cleaned up, but I did find it very stressful to drive in the area and to be honest I should have chosen the Richmond Hill or Thornhill location instead.
When I finally found the kiosk and parked in the designated “penguin pick-up” parking spots, an associate came out right away and greeted me and asked me for my order confirmation number that was on the email (I simply showed him my iPhone). The associate went back inside to get my order and I did receive my neatly packed paper bags within the 90 seconds as mentioned on their website. Another nice touch, he placed the bags directly into my trunk! This was really nice since I had kids in the car with me.
The neatly packed paper bags is a point that needs more discussion. Whenever I have received any type of fresh food product delivered to my door, it was housed in temperature controlled cooler boxes with cooler packs and lots of packaging. In past experience, I was left with a huge amount of waste that I had to deal with – which was not convenient for me. My Penguin Fresh groceries, on the other hand, came in six neatly packed paper bags and the fruits and vegetables were separated in good quality plastic bags that I happily saved and will re-use. The paper bags are fit for recycling and they were very easy to dispose of. This is a big plus for me! Since Penguin Pick-up locations are equipped with refrigerators and freezers, your food doesn’t have to be packaged in temperature controlled packaging.
I was sure to try every category of products available so that I could tell you guys all about each category:
Fruits/vegetables: I was very happy with the produce I received. It was really fresh which showed in the colour and smell of the produce. There were a few quirks that I ran into, namely, I ordered what I thought was 1 lb bunch of carrots and I received one massive 1 lb carrot (which is cool but not what I expected!) I also did not realize Spanish onions were as big as my head! They seemed pretty average looking online. I ordered a pineapple and tomatoes and they were very fresh but to the point that they were not ripe enough to eat just yet so this may have to be factored in next time. I probably won’t be able to use my pineapple and tomatoes for a few days at least.
Ontario Meats & Poultry: The meat products are fantastic. The taste and quality of meat is there and I enjoy that I can receive these great products closer to home. The only issue I had was that I ordered a bunch of different products and a few did not come labelled so I had to unwrap them to see what they were. Not a big deal.
Deli: I ordered the deli because I wanted to see if there was a difference from the regular deli products I buy. These are not your typical deli products that you would receive from the grocery store but they do come packaged as if they came straight from the deli counter – in clear bags. I tried the peameal bacon, pancetta, naturally cured bacon and turkey breast – Each of them tasted great!
Dairy: The dairy selection is very minimal – literally, the only choices for the Vaughan location were half and half cream and butter. I am excited to try the butter since we go through a ton of it at our house.
Penguin Fresh also offers pre-prepared meals that are made every morning by a very well-known caterer West City Snack Bar (Treeline Catering) in Toronto. The food comes packaged and ready to be put into an oven safe dish or a pot to be heated. I decided to try out the Smoked Tomato Soup and jalapeno and cheddar scones for dinner. I heated up the scones for about 5 minutes in my toaster oven and heated the soup in a regular saucepan. My husband and I really enjoyed it! The kids got a different meal (I am still working on eventually making one meal for all 4 of us….one day soon hopefully).
Would I use this service again? Right now, my life is disorganized and I am in the thick of child rearing. I have a 4 and 1 year old and I run my own business from my home. I would love to use this service again but I would really have to try a location that was a lot more convenient for me. I love the idea of taking a few minutes to plan your groceries and meals and then having all of the items ready for pick-up. So, the time it takes me to plan is off-set by not having to spend time in the grocery store. It balances out but I think it is a shift in routine that I would have to make. The produce was really fresh which means I could buy all my produce at once and it will last in my refrigerator. It was really nice to have such fresh ingredients in my refrigerator that could easily be turned into a fantastic meal. When dinner time rolled around, I didn’t have the usual anxiety of what I was going to cook and which items I would have to pick up to cook.
A lack of products is one negative that I encountered. Given my current lifestyle, I really want to be able to get as many products as possible in one location. Penguin Fresh did mention they are always looking for products to expand their offerings. Some items I would LOVE to see added are eggs, milk, fresh juices, breads and possibly spices.
I took this opportunity to ask Penguin Fresh some of your questions about their service and how it works. You can read their answers below!
Q- Is it expensive? Delivery costs? Order minimum?
A- It is not expensive, we actually offer great prices! In most cases, we have better prices for comparable product quality when looking at other grocery stores. The freshness/quality of the product you receive is unparalleled. We don’t have any delivery cost nor do we have an order minimum amount. You can buy the majority of our products by the piece… so it is literally as if you were going to the store yourself.
Q- Are the products locally sourced (Vaughan/Ontario/Canada)?
A- We source our products locally wherever possible. With produce, it all depends on what season we’re in. However, even in the winter, some products are sourced locally as they are grown in green houses. In the warmer seasons we will always offer Ontario produce to support local farms. All of our meats are sourced from Ontario family farms year round. Some of the family farms include West Grey Farms, King Capon Farms, VG Meats and more.
Q- Where do the deli and dairy products come from?
A- The deli products come from a wide range of local suppliers in the GTA. All of the products come from local Ontario producers – Nothing comes from outside of the province. All of the deli meats are supplied by Sanagan’s Meat Locker and they receive the deli from suppliers such as Dolce Lucano, Bona Foods and Sikorski Sausages. Some products such as our roast beef and turkey breast are made in-house at Sanagan’s Meat Locker
Q- What makes you different than other online grocers like Grocery Gateway?
A- What makes Penguin Fresh different from other online grocers is that you will receive a high quality and fresher product at an added convenience. We work with local suppliers who only choose to offer the highest quality products. The pieces of produce that you receive from Penguin Fresh in the afternoon, were picked up from the Ontario Food Terminal that same morning. With this set-up we eliminate additional steps between the products harvest and your home. Therefore your products will last longer in your fridge, and there will be less wasted food! We’re also different because Penguin Fresh delivers your purchases exclusively to Penguin Pick-Up locations. You can pick up your groceries at anytime when it is convenient for you! You don’t have to schedule a time for pick-up, and Penguin Pick-Up will store your groceries in the fridge at the appropriate temperature. Additionally, because we are storing the products in a temperature controlled environment, we use as little packaging required, keeping our environment in mind – No cooler bag, dry ice, ice packs or Styrofoam and other waste to accompany your order.
Q- Where is the produce stored? Are there temperature controls?
A- From when your order is placed to when you receive your produce/meat the products are stored in a temperature controlled environment. Before your order is placed, your produce is stored in our suppliers temperature controlled warehouse. When the products are distributed to the Penguin Pick-Up of your choice, they are also being shipped in a temperature controlled truck. Lastly, when they arrive at Penguin Pick-Up your products will be stored in the fridge/freezer depending on the products you’ve purchased.
Q- Can you use the service once or do you have to buy a membership?
A- There is no membership required to order from Penguin Fresh. You may use this service as many times as you like.
Q- Are there any pick-up locations in Toronto?
A- Yes, we have two Penguin Pick-Up locations in Toronto. One is located at Keele and Lawrence and the other is located at the Toronto Harbourfront right at Queens Quay and Rees St. Aside from that, we do offer Penguin Fresh through other Penguin Pick-Up locations in Vaughan, Thornhill, Richmond Hill and Scarborough – Offering this great service at 6 Penguin Pick-Up locations.
Q- When are the pre-prepared meals made?
A- When are the pre-prepared meals made? The pre-prepared meals are all made on the day that they are ordered. West City Snack Bar has in-house chefs who cook the meals from scratch using the highest quality products and freshest ingredients.
Q- Where does the meat come from?
A- As previously mentioned, all of our meats are sourced from Ontario family farms year round. Some of the family farms include West Grey Farms, King Capon Farms, VG Meats and more. The meat that we sell is butcher quality meat – You will only be getting prime or AAA quality meats. All of our meat is hormone and anti-biotic free, free range or free run (depending on the animal), pasture raised or vegetable-grain fed. If you click on any of the meat products on our website, you can see the details of where the meat comes from, and how it is raised/fed.
Q- Are you looking at getting a larger range of products like breads, dairy, spices?
A- Yes, we are looking at getting a wider ranger of products to fulfill the needs of our growing customer base! Just to give you an example, we added 5 new dairy products to our assortment just last Thursday.
Q- Which cities are you looking to expand to?
A- We have plans to be in every metropolitan area of Canada within the coming 12-24 months.
*I was compensated by Penguin Fresh for this post and the products were provided to me, however, and as always, all opinions are my own.