Get Your All-Natural, Organic Groceries Online

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You know that organic food is better for you and the planet, and that using natural grooming products spares you from exposure to toxic, cancer-causing chemicals. The problem is you usually have to pay a premium price for these goods — if you can find them at all.

Thrive Market, an innovative new online marketplace, wants to make it easier and cheaper to find healthy, natural, and organic products. Thrive is something of a mashup of Whole Foods Market, Costco, and FreshDirect that charges $60 a year to shop a curated selection of healthy, natural, and organic nonperishable foods, vitamins and supplements, body care products, and household cleaners — all priced 25 to 50 percent below retail. Thrive currently offers more than 2,500 products from roughly 400 natural and organic brands such as Clif Bar, Newman's Own, Tom's of Maine, Udi's, Go Raw, and Justin's Nut Butter.

Thrive can offer the products for less by cutting out the middle man. "We work directly with brands to negotiate the best possible prices and then pass those along to shoppers," says Jeremiah McElwee, vice president of purchasing and merchandising. "Brick-and-mortar retailers are out to make money. And with natural and organic products, they, not the manufacturers, are making the biggest margins. Retailers expect customers to absorb the higher cost of natural and organic goods rather than taking a chunk out of their profits." The result of that, he says, is that consumers too often say no thanks and buy cheaper conventional products instead.

"When I worked at Whole Foods for many years, I had family members and friends who said they couldn't afford to shop there," McElwee says. "It broke my heart to hear them say, 'Dude, you're in a different world now. We don't shop at your store.' To be able to make these products affordable, we just have to leverage today's technology to create efficiencies that haven't been there before. We're able to have a very low overhead because we're not building beautiful new stores in upscale neighborhoods."

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Of course, online retail is nothing new. What really sets Thrive Market apart from competitors like FreshDirect, Peapod, and AmazonFresh, is the high quality standards they use to decide which products to carry. For food, Thrive sells only items that are USDA Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified. And for body care and household cleaning products to make the cut, they must rank very low on the Environmental Working Group's toxicity scales. Thrive also relies heavily on McElwee's self-described "product nerd" expertise in selecting which products to bring in. Before joining Thrive, he spent several years as a standards bearer at Whole Foods, and was responsible for developing its Premium Body Care standard, which is widely viewed as the strictest barometer for gauging truly natural, truly nontoxic products.

Another thing that differentiates Thrive Market from other online retailers is that, rather than carrying 20 different brands of every single item, they strive to offer only what they deem best. "We definitely feel confident in our ability to filter for quality," he says. "Our selection is highly curated and very focused. We go category by category and bring in the best in class, our favorite brands. In that way, we're kind of similar to Costco, which has just a few options for each type of item."

Thrive Market also lets you narrow your product search by selecting one of six specific diets: gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, raw, paleo, or organic. You can also streamline the search further by checking certain health attributes such as high fiber, low sodium, dairy free, or no added sugar. Additionally, if you want to find items with environmental attributes such as BPA-free, fair trade, locally sourced, or recyclable packaging, you can denote those qualifications too, and then Thrive will generate a list of products that meet your specifications.

Thrive ships anywhere in the U.S. using FedEx Ground. Orders are usually shipped within 24 hours of ordering, and there's no shipping charge on orders over $49. As Thrive gathers more members, they aim to be able to offer free shipping across the board.

The best part is Thrive Market lets you dabble before taking the plunge. By registering, you get 15 percent off your first purchase and 30-day trial membership so you can see if this something you'll likely use before making the yearlong commitment. It's painless — and free — to give it a shot, but we'll bet you'll be fully on board once you've tried it. 

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