Why can't Amazon Fresh keep milk in stock?
March 22, 2021 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Amazon Fresh never has generic milk available in my area. this was kind of expected during the early stages of the pandemic when demand far outstripped supply for grocery delivery. they do always seem to have super expensive organic milk in stock so it doesn't seem to be refrigeration issue. I'm just curious what could lead to the world's largest retailer being unable to stock milk when every other supermarket does it just fine. I'm not interested in discussions of the morality of Amazon.
posted by benzenedream to Shopping (14 answers total)
I don't guess I know how to prove this but my assumption had been that milk is one of the banes of the grocery delivery market - weighs around 8 pounds, has to be kept cold, has to be carried, easily tips deliveries over into "heavy" which some delivery services pay a few pennies more to the deliverers for, breaks if dropped especially in plastic...

...so only sell the expensive stuff with the bigger markup.

I don't know if you're seeing that it's in the catalog but out of stock, or if you simply don't see it at all (mine does not show anything but the fancy stuff, I'm in one of their largest markets), but I'd guess it's not worth it to them.

I don't use Fresh very often, but from both Instacart and a couple stores' online portals there are definitely things I KNOW are in their store but aren't available for delivery or pickup no matter what you search or scroll for. There's a decision-making process there, not a supply chain issue.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:07 AM on March 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

In a way, your question is really "why doesn't Amazon have their own milk brand." What you call generic milk is store-brand milk, e.g. 365 Milk at Whole Foods, or Lucerne milk at Safeway, or Kroger Brand Milk, Trader Joe's Milk, etc.

My bet would be that their scale doesn't yet justify that sort of logistical add-on, particularly since their competition would keep the price so low. Amazon Fresh, between its storefronts and warehouse locations, is still a small player: mainly dense urban locations where delivery costs and times aren't too high.

Except of course that Whole Foods is their brand too, where generic milk is still on the pricy side. I don't know what the brand conflicts might be for selling 365 Milk in Amazon Fresh stores, but they could always use the same milk logistical chain and rebadge the milk as Amazon's Choice Milk in Frustration-Free Packaging, or whatever they decide to call it. But I wouldn't necessarily expect it to be cheap; they are still a slightly premium order-and-delivery operation.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:17 AM on March 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Dairy is commonly sold as a loss leader to get you in the figurative door. My guess is that right now with the pandemic they have a captive audience and no incentive to keep loss leaders in stock.
posted by aniola at 11:18 AM on March 22, 2021 [11 favorites]

I sort of have the same question, but for Instacart. While stores will generally have organic milk, lactose free milk, and ultra-pasteurized milk (Parmalat) they'll only very occasionally list "regular" milk, not store brand even, but the local dairy brand.
posted by Jahaza at 11:29 AM on March 22, 2021

Best answer: Organic milk and ultra pasteurized milk have much longer lifetimes because they've been UHT blasted. Like--MUCH longer, on the order of 2 months instead of 2 weeks. Also, you may have noticed that many (not all, but many) organic milk brands either come in cartons or opaque plastic jugs, while most normal milk comes in translucent jugs. Exposure to light causes milk to go off faster. Exposure to temps over 40 cause milk to go off faster. Once that milk leaves the store or warehouse facility, Amazon or Instacart or whomever can no longer vouch for that product. And sure, you get the same danger zone concern with meat and such as well, but you taste it in milk and you taste it fast. If your driver makes a stop in between the facility and you, and your grocery bag just happens to be sitting in a seat by a window, you will taste that in regular milk in a few days. You just don't in organic milk. It holds on better because of the opaque packaging and the UHT treatment. I think this has as much to do with milk being a loss leader (true, all true) as it does with product quality.
posted by phunniemee at 11:43 AM on March 22, 2021 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: For the last few months, Amazon actually did have a generic in-store brand called Happy Belly which was available at regular supermarket prices. For a month it showed up as out of stock, now it doesn't show up (but the lactose free versions do show up).
posted by benzenedream at 12:21 PM on March 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In a way, your question is really "why doesn't Amazon have their own milk brand." What you call generic milk is store-brand milk, e.g. 365 Milk at Whole Foods, or Lucerne milk at Safeway, or Kroger Brand Milk, Trader Joe's Milk, etc.

Happy Belly is Amazon's store brand for dairy products. I ordered from Amazon Fresh at the beginning of the pandemic, and while we had trouble getting delivery slots at times, we never had trouble with the actual products, although we don't drink that much milk. Haven't ordered from there lately - I was going to suggest it was regional, but based on your profile, we're in the same area, so not sure what the issue is.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 12:35 PM on March 22, 2021

Best answer: My endodontist told me (while doing my emergency root canal) that his wife ran the Amazon Fresh launch, and that she got paged in the wee hours all the time because that's when dairy farmers operated. It's possible that the dairy 'flow' has been deprioritized since COVID to the point that its success becomes best-effort.
posted by batter_my_heart at 12:58 PM on March 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding aniola that milk is a loss leader. Source: my brother, who has spent several years doing dairy logistics in the UK and Europe.
posted by scruss at 2:00 PM on March 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: FWIW, despite being somewhat close to you, I have not had trouble getting either Happy Belly or 365 brand whole milk from Fresh -- we order about twice a month, generally for Sunday or Monday delivery, and only once have they been out of stock of both of them (and their data shows that we then purchased a more expensive organic, so they may be considering that as part of their logistics and stocking algorithms). I'm on the West side of San Francisco, though our orders are often fulfilled from a distribution center in San Mateo county.

I have noticed that milk from Fresh arrives far closer to its pull date than milk stocked on the shelves of my local Target and Whole Foods. It's typical for delivery milk to expire in 7-9 days, and we usually see 2-3 weeks on the shelves around here.
posted by toxic at 2:16 PM on March 22, 2021

(Not abusing my edit window, but...)

I just searched, and I can get Happy Belly whole milk delivered in SF today for $4.48/gallon.
posted by toxic at 2:21 PM on March 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

The short answer is... profit.

Amazon owns Whole Foods, and has brands feeding Whole Foods. There's little profit competing with local supermarkets on commodities such as milk. There IS profit providing organic milk and other organic dairy products.
posted by kschang at 4:45 PM on March 22, 2021

Response by poster: Very weird. I am actually in the East Bay not the Peninsula, so perhaps it's a different distribution center that decided regular milk isn't worth the loss. 365 Whole Foods milk is always available via a Whole Foods order. I tried chat, Amazon support just stated "different products are available in different zip codes".
posted by benzenedream at 6:34 PM on March 22, 2021

For what it's worth this is also an issue with services like Imperfect Foods, which nominally offers milk/cream/half & half but which has literally never, ever, not even once actually delivered any of those items to me. (They refund it without complaint every time but it's like a game of chicken now, to see whether they'll finally send it or I'll finally stop ordering.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:19 AM on March 23, 2021

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