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Sushi selfie
Alan Boyle takes a selfie with Whole Foods sushi. (GeekWire Photo)

AUSTIN, Texas — Gray skies, cops on bikes, microbrews and transit turmoil: If Texas’ state capital gets picked as Amazon’s HQ2, Amazonians will find much that’s familiar, plus the scent of barbecue wafting through the air.

And they’ll find something they can’t yet get in Seattle: one-hour grocery delivery from Whole Foods, courtesy of Amazon Prime Now.

Sure, Prime Now can deliver the goods in Seattle, from PCC Community Markets, New Seasons Markets and other vendors. But Whole Foods isn’t on the list in Amazon’s hometown. Yet.

Austin, however, is one of four cities (also including Cincinnati, Dallas and Virginia Beach) where Amazon rolled out one-hour Whole Foods grocery delivery for Amazon Prime members this month. You can even get free delivery within two hours if you order at least $35 worth of groceries.

It probably helps that Austin is the home base for Whole Foods, which Amazon acquired last year for $13.7 billion. (That’s a lot of lettuce.)

To try out the system, and to keep my stomach from growling during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin, I put together an online order in my hotel room at noontime Sunday.

Getting one-hour delivery wasn’t just a luxury: I had a meeting to attend at 2 p.m., and couldn’t afford to dally at a downtown restaurant.

The night before, I had figured out that I shouldn’t order through the Whole Foods website, which sets you up with Instacart’s delivery schedule. (That can be confusing.) Instead, I went right to the Prime Now site, made sure I switched my “Shopping In” preference from 98005 to the Hilton’s 78701 ZIP code, and clicked around the Whole Foods offerings.

I chose a pecan feta salad, a cup of yogurt, a tray of spicy sushi and a can of Yerba Mate mint tea, plus a six-pack of chocolate croissants to share with my fellow science geeks at 2. I might have sprung for a bottle of wine, but doing a search for “wine” only brought up items such as wine vinegar, corkscrews, and lots and lots of beer. (Is that an Austin thing?)

Even though I didn’t make it to the $35 mark, I pressed the button to pay for my cart at 12:18 p.m., and within three minutes I got a text:

Text for delivery

Soon afterward, I was auto-texted a link that let me track my order on a map of Austin:

Tracking grocery order
An interactive map tracks the progress of a grocery delivery in downtown Austin. (Amazon Graphic)

Since the nearest Whole Foods store was just 13 blocks away, it’s not such a stretch to deliver a couple of bags of groceries in under an hour. Nevertheless, it was entertaining to watch the purple dot representing my shipment make its way from the store and down the street, courtesy of “David,” the Amazon Flex delivery driver.

There was a knock at the door at 12:59 p.m., and sure enough, David was there with my lunch. The salad, yogurt, sushi and mint drink were inside a shiny, insulated bag, still as cold as they were in the deli case. The croissants, which were bigger and a bit messier than I was expecting, were in a separate bag.

Amazon delivery bags
Lunchtime! (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)
Hotel-room still life
Salad and sushi, yogurt and yerba mate, and a tray of chocolate croissants are arrayed in a hotel-room still life. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

The tip was already built into the Amazon transaction, so we had a couple of minutes to chat about the delivery routine. “We’re constantly busy,” David told me. “I love it because of the hustle-bustle.”

In advance of starting up the Whole Foods delivery service, Amazon tested the limits of Austin’s one-hour delivery zone — and the service is currently offered as far out as Georgetown, about 30 miles north of downtown.

I asked David what Austinites thought about the HQ2 search, and he said the buzz has settled down. Most local folks suspect Austin won’t make the final cut — and some of them think that’s for the best. The reason? “Well, more traffic,” he said, echoing a common Seattle complaint. “But it’d be good for the economy.”

My grocery order wasn’t as fancy, or as pricey, as a room-service burger and fries. Admittedly, the $5 tip and the $11.99 delivery charge brought the price tag to $48.33, but I did manage to get two meals out of it, plus some croissants for my colleagues and for my next day’s breakfast.

And the taste? Well, we’re talking groceries here, not fine cuisine. If I were looking for a tasty, ready-to-eat meal, I would have checked Amazon Restaurants instead. But for folks who want to do their grocery shopping online and get the goods in an hour or two, the Whole Foods / Prime Now / Amazon Flex combination seems hard to beat.

That combination could shake up the retail food industry, and it’s apparently already shaking up Amazon: There are rumblings that at least some of the hundreds of Amazon layoffs that came to light last week are related to a consolidation of delivery operations at Prime Now, Amazon Fresh and Amazon Restaurants.

Is Amazon’s winning formula for groceries being tested in Austin? Now there’s some food for thought.

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