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Will AmazonFresh help South LA residents get fruits and vegetables? For now, the answer is no

AmazonFresh delivery man Tim Wilkie prepares a grocery order for delivery to a residence on Mercer Island, Wash. On Monday, Amazon Fresh launched in select Los Angeles zip codes.
AmazonFresh delivery man Tim Wilkie prepares a grocery order for delivery to a residence on Mercer Island, Wash. On Monday, Amazon Fresh launched in select Los Angeles zip codes.
AP Photo/Joe Nicholson

With AmazonFresh, Los Angeles has one more option to get groceries – but for now, it seems South L.A. is one of several areas where the company will not deliver.

AmazonFresh, the online grocery service launched by its e-commerce giant namesake, was only available in Seattle until Monday, when it came to select L.A. zip codes. Customers need to be Amazon Prime members ($79 yearly) and then will pay $299 per year for AmazonFresh.

The concept is simple: L.A. shoppers who log on to Amazon can buy food along with other things purchased from the site, and have them delivered within a day.

The announcement sparked some discussion on social media sites about whether this could be an option for people in areas where supermarkets are scarce – like South L.A. – to get access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The need for more grocery-shopping options in the area is clear. A 2010 report from the non-profit Community Health Councils, Inc. noted the following:

South LA has one of the poorest food resource environments in LA County. Home to over 1.3 million people, the area’s 60 full-service grocery stores serve an average of 22,156 residents. In contrast, West LA has 651,000 residents and 57 stores, each of which serves only 11,150 residents. Moreover, the availability, variety and quality of fresh foods found in all food outlets in South LA is inferior to that found in other areas of Los Angeles. A previous study conducted by CHC found that fresh produce, nonfat milk, meat, and low-fat snacks are less often available in South LA food retail outlets compared with those in West LA. Only three-quarters of all food retail outlets in South LA sold fresh fruits and vegetables compared to over 90 percent of those in West LA. In addition, South LA food retail outlets had only about half of the selection of fruits and vegetables, and they were more likely to be damaged or spoiled.

But for now, it doesn't seem like AmazonFresh is available to southside residents.

"AmazonFresh is currently available in various zip codes and we're adding more regularly," wrote Pia Arthur, an Amazon spokeswoman, in an email. "So we encourage people to check the AmazonFresh site to find out if their zip code is eligible."

Arthur declined to provide a comprehensive list of the eligible zip codes and said Amazon does not "comment on future plans."

But inputting addresses from more than 25 South L.A. zip codes into AmazonFresh's delivery zone check revealed that none were currently within the service zone.

"We're branching out as fast as we can," says the company on its website, "while being careful not to sacrifice the quality and convenience our customers expect from AmazonFresh."

Besides the availability, the cost of the service may also be an issue in an area where nearly 70 percent of households bring in less than $40,000 yearly (with most of those households making less than $20,000 in a year). The cost of access to the service – about $380 annually – doesn't include the cost of delivery or the actual groceries.

The supermarket chain Vons also offers a grocery delivery service, which does extend to South Los Angeles. The minimum order is $49 worth of goods, in addition to a delivery fee, a potential bag fee and possible fuel surcharges.

Marqueece Harris-Dawson, the president and CEO of Community Coalition in South L.A., said there aren't that many "full-service grocery stores" in the area – places like Ralphs, Vons or Albertsons. In fact, an area Ralphs, near the intersection of King Boulevard and Western Avenue, is expected to close its doors for good on June 21.

Ralphs did not return a request asking for comment.

"In the meantime, they've built more stores in West L.A., the sort of outer ring," Harris-Dawson said. "So what you find is folks have to get in their automobile, if they're lucky enough to have an automobile, and fight traffic."

Harris-Dawson said the energy, time and money that South L.A. residents expend on getting to full-service grocery stores is "tremendous," and also results in what he calls "spot grocery-shopping."

"So you'll go to a convenience store or liquor store for something that holds you over until you have the time to go across town," he said. 

But convenience and liquor stores aren't supermarkets, he added, citing a 2008 study from Community Health Councils. That report found a local supermarket can increase a community's likelihood of meeting nutritional guidelines by about 33 percent. Farmers markets and fruit stands may try to fill in the gap left by the supermarket shortage, said Harris-Dawson, but they're no replacement.

"A handful of people can shop at the liquor store, and a handful of people can shop at CVS … and a handful of people can shop at the local farmers market, but on the whole, at scale, people have to have grocery stores," he said.

On Thursday at 5 p.m., the Community Coalition will lead a rally at the Ralphs on King and Western to protest what it calls "poor and unfair business practices in South L.A." and the closure, the reason for which it describes as "a mystery to the community."