There are many interesting things we have learned in the process of conducting our Shelf Reliance review (name now changed to Thrive Life). While most will recognize them as an emergency preparedness and food storage provider, there are other unique characteristics that set them apart from most others. Shelf Reliance (Thrive Life) has been in business for almost 8 years (first three years making rotation shelves) though they made a drastic change in 2009 when they shifted to a direct selling/MLM business model unlike any other in the preparedness industry.
Aside from selling food storage and emergency preparedness items, Shelf Reliance (Thrive Life) is the leading food storage shelving manufacturer with their Food Rotation Systems under the brands: Shelf Reliance and FIFO. The business got started in 2004, making food storage racks and a few years later went into the business of filling them by creating their own food brand THRIVE.
As we briefly mentioned earlier, Shelf Reliance/Thrive Life differs from its competitors in that they are a Multi-Level Marketer (MLM). The goal of the direct selling approach is to hire interdependent contracted workers (called consultants in this case). They are required to buy product monthly and recruit consultants to sell under them. They are incentivised to to build the pyramid below them by recieving a percentage of sales of people in their downline, the term for people beneath you. The bigger the more layers under you will translate to larger profits for the consultants at the highest levels.
First and foremost we look at customer service when evaluating a company since a company is as only good as the way they treat their customers. Over the past 2 1/2 years we have ordered from Shelf Reliance (through website, not through consultants) on numerous occasions and have had good experiences working with their customer service team. There are a variety of ways to contact them such as email, phone, and a super useful online chat feature. Hold times were often short and the people were kind and informative.
While our purchases have not required a return, we feel good that we will be taken care of if a return is needed since their return policy is fair.
Something that was apparent during our Shelf Reliance Review was that they have pretty competitive prices. They are pretty close to the low price leaders on most products and often have very good prices on their food storage racks, but due to additional costs that add up they are often more expensive than others (we’ll describe below).
Sales and promotions are one of several components of pricing. Shelf Reliance/Thrive Life has monthly sales which every once in a while can help you save significant money. More often than not though the sales don’t come with big markdowns, which is a result of their unique business model that requires them to pay multiple layers of consultant commissions which means there isn’t a lot of margin left for them to discount product. Usually MLM companies sell products with super high margins (think 12 times the cost of the product) like exotic super healing fruit drinks but food storage is a competitive landscape with far more sensible shoppers so they can’t over charge for product (it wouldn’t sell). So in the end there isn’t a lot of wiggle room on discounting.
The next component of pricing that we will cover is shipping. Food storage shipping costs can add up in a hurry so it is nice to have low rates like Shelf Reliance/Thrive Life does. While it’s not easy to remember like a flat rate system, the tier pricing on their shipping rates is competitive:
Subtotal – Shipping
$0-$70.00 = $6.99 shipping rate
$70.01-$130.00 = $9.99 shipping
$130.01-$190.00 = $12.99 shipping rate
$190.01-$399.99 = $19.99 shipping
$400.00+ 5% of order subtotal = shipping
Our biggest gripe with their shipping system is when ordering over $400 worth of product. While other companies give free shipping or charge around $10 on larger orders, Shelf Reliance/Thrive Life goes in the opposite direction and charges much more. For example, a Supreme 1 Year Freeze-Dried & Dehydrated Food Supply would cost almost $200 to ship while competitor’s kits of the same cost would charge about a $10 fee or ship it for free.
The last component that we will cover is tax. The vast majority of food storage companies operate in one state and as a result are only required to charge taxes to residents of that state, but Shelf Reliance/Thrive Life has a presence (consultants) in every state and as a result are required to charge sales tax on all orders (except states like as Montana and Alaska where they have no sales tax), but states like California or Texas you will be charged up to an additional 7.25% on your order.
Even though prices can get a little high with orders from Shelf Reliance/Thrive Life, there is a way you can save money with them and that is by becoming a Shelf Reliance/Thrive Life consultant. Consultants get discounted products. Of course you must factor in that you are required to buy at least $50 of product each month and spend $200 on a starter kit which we didn’t want to but you may feel differently.
Shelf Reliance/Thrive Life carries one brand of food storage, THRIVE, which is their in house brand. THRIVE consists of dehydrated and freeze-dried items but for the most part does not focus on ready-to- eat complete meals. We would have preferred to see another brand like Mountain House to help round out their small selection of ready-to-eat just-add-water meals.
Within the THRIVE brand they do have an excellent selection to chose from. Some items you won’t see very many other places like Quinoa (maybe Julie knows what that is?). With the THRIVE brand you also get a wide variety of packaging options such as pouches, #10 cans, and often 6 gallon buckets. The pouches are nice as they are less expensive and allow you to test product without committing to large purchases.
Aside from those items, the #10 cans come in a variety of configurations such as 6 Packs (a variety of 6 cans in a box) as well as 3, 6, and 12 month configurations where you can save money from when buying in bulk. We have noticed good deals from Costco’s website from time to time on those items. It is our understanding that consultants cannot beat Costco’s price so buying from them is a great option especially since you get Costco’s fabulous warranty on the product.
Another interesting fact we uncovered during our Shelf Reliance/Thrive Life review was that their American Fork headquarters/canning facility is USDA approved. Most food storage companies when buying real meat need to buy pre-canned meat products from other suppliers which adds an extra layer. The result of cutting out one more middle man means they often have very good freeze-dried meat prices. While they have had meat safety issues [video] in the past a fair amount of time has passed so you should feel safe ordering Thrive meats.
In conclusion, the food storage options and selection is very good. You can spend a lot of time looking at all of the different foods and there are a variety of packaging options to meet your needs.
Outside of your typical food storage products mentioned above, Shelf Reliance/Thrive Life also has started to carry a small selection of MREs, water storage, 72 hour kits, and emergency supplies. While it does not offer the variety as many of their competitors, they have competitive prices which is a plus so if they happen to carry it you should get a good price on it. Hopefully over time they will beef up their options in this area and we can update our Shelf Reliance review.
We have tried several of the food items at their new American Fork corporate offices (nice building!) as we are also fortunate enough to live nearby. All of the items tasted very good and typical of the rest of their competition.
Our biggest issue though was that we found out via the internet, then through contacting the customer service team, that they bring in some products from China. For us that simply isn’t acceptable. With a history of poor regulation and sickness coming from bad food we avoid China food storage products like we do China food at the grocery store.
Carrying food grown in China is bad in our opinion but trying to hide it and cover it up is another thing that is frustrating. Chatting with customer service about it they responded with long winded political talk that did everything but answer the question. Eventually after asking the question 4 different ways we were able to get them to admit to what we had read elsewhere on the internet.
Also if you visit their FAQ section, you will see a question posed: “Where do THRIVE fruits and vegetables come from?” with the following answer: “Our products are all processed and packaged in the US under FDA and USDA regulation.” This is clearly worded in a way to make you think it is from the United States. The only thing they are saying is it is handled and canned in the US, they conveniently ignore their own question of “Where do XX come from?” For this reason we are giving them a poor score on product quality. NOTE: For those that are not bothered by Chinese food the score would probably be in the 9 points range.
*UPDATE: 10/11/2012: One of the owners of Shelf Reliance/Thrive Life has reached out requesting we remove the statements about the origin of some of the Thrive branded food they sell. They sent us this Thrive Country of Origin document for each individual item they carry. They did not answer questions we posed asking for clarity so we will leave it up to the reader to take our experience and what Shelf Reliance/Thrive Life is now claiming in this document to make your own decision.*
Shelf Reliance’s website is one of the best out there. The home page has the main categories along the top in easy to read tabs, when hovered over, sub-categories appear and you can jump into a variety of more specific product categories very quickly. No matter where you are on the site this navigation bar maintains that position, so it is easy to get out and start over again.
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Once you click through to a product of interest you get to a product page. Shelf Reliance’s product pages are near the top in the food storage industry. Great deal of information, specs, customer reviews, additional photos, and recipe videos. They do a great job by consolidating the ability to buy all of the different packaging sizes from one page. You can order pouches, cans, and buckets all from the same page which is a great way to display the product.
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Aside from the normal browsing on the site, there is a great working search capability on the top right of all pages. When you start typing the product of interest it start auto-suggesting products and it does a great job. It can get a little overzealous by showing you way too many choices but more often than not it does a great job.
Shelf Reliance (now called Thrive Life) is the recipe king/queen of the food storage industry. While many have written recipes and sell recipe books, Shelf Reliance has filmed over 200 videos (the most of any of the companies we have seen). Found either on product pages or at the Shelf Reliance YouTube channel, the recipe videos are top notch and provide great tips. If you are interested in becoming a Thrive Life consultant they also have numerous recruitment videos to help you get excited about that too.
Besides the great videos, Thrive Life (formerly known as Shelf Reliance) has a blog which can be rather sporadic in its content delivery consistency meaning how often blog posts are put up. There have been periods of inactivity of over 6-7 months at times but when they do post they are often insightful and worth checking out.
The Shelf Reliance/Thrive Life Facebook page is appears to just be starting off and hopefully some giveaways and interaction takes place there as it is a good way to get to talk to other preparedness minded people.
Shelf Reliance, now called Thrive Life is a very solid food storage company, one of the newer ones we have reviewed thus far so maybe still working out some of the kinks that will help put them in the top echelon of the industry. If it weren’t for some issues with pricing and product sourcing we think they would be fighting it out with the top companies.
If you are looking for food storage recipes, some nice quality rotation shelves, or are interested in trying to make the big bucks selling food storage you are in the right place! Thanks for checking out our Shelf Reliance review!Visit Shelf Reliance Now