20 pledges for 2020: Could coronavirus lockdown see more people turn to seasonal fruit and veg?

Emma Snaith: Our shopping habits have changed dramatically amid the pandemic, but will they stick once life returns to normal?

Friday 17 April 2020 15:59
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Fruit and veg delivery box companies that focus on seasonal produce have ramped up production to meet the explosion in demand in recent weeks
Fruit and veg delivery box companies that focus on seasonal produce have ramped up production to meet the explosion in demand in recent weeks

My challenge to eat only seasonal, local food for a year suddenly seemed a whole lot less important as supermarket shelves emptied and markets were forced to close under coronavirus lockdown.

It was hard enough to find the basics in most supermarkets, let alone try and track down British apples in the empty fruit and veg aisles.

But after my initial worries, I discovered that a number fruit and veg delivery box companies that focus on seasonal produce have ramped up production to meet the explosion in demand in recent weeks.

The surge in orders for these boxes as people stick to social-distancing rules has in some ways fast-tracked the movement to eat more seasonal local food that was gaining momentum before the outbreak of Covid-19.

Abel & Cole, which delivers on average 55,000 food boxes a week, has seen a more than 25 per cent increase in orders. It has managed to keep up with this demand by reducing its offer to its staple organic seasonal fruit and veg boxes, allowing its packers to get more boxes out.

While this has meant that Abel & Cole’s all-British veg box that has been cut from the range, much of the produce in Abel & Cole’s current veg boxes is still British and seasonal.

Riverford, which also offers a range of seasonal organic fruit and veg boxes, has likewise seen a surge in demand on the scale of its Christmas peak in the last few weeks. The company has pulled staff off its marketing and administrative side to help pack their boxes to meet this demand.

However, while both Riverford and Abel Cole are no longer able to take on new customers for the moment, a number of smaller fruit and veg delivery companies are continuing to take orders across the UK.

Many wholesalers that used to supply restaurants have reconfigured their business model under lockdown and are now delivering fresh fruit and veg to people’s doors.

London wholesaler Smith and Brock offers seasonal fruit, veg and dairy boxes to addresses across south and west London. While Natoora, another London supplier has opened its chef-only ordering app to the public for the first time offering a range of seasonal fruit and veg, as well as sustainably produced dairy and charcuterie.

Meanwhile, other suppliers of seasonal fruit and veg have taken extra measures to support people who are self-isolating. Darts Farm in Devon are now offering free-delivery to people over 70 and the vulnerable in the local community with free delivery.

Some suppliers of seasonal produce have even come up with innovative new delivery systems, like Devon-based Sharpham which has set up its own wine and cheese drive-thru. Let’s just hope this is something that takes off once the crisis is over.

It’s hard to tell whether this trend towards ordering local seasonal produce to our doors will stick as the lockdown eases and life goes back to normal.

However, the interruption of global supply chains and closure of borders due to coronavirus may impact food imports from abroad for even longer. There’s a chance you might not be able to find air-freighted fruit like blueberries in the supermarket so easily come autumn.

With these items off the shelves, we might not bother looking for them anymore. Perhaps some small glimmer of hope that we can take from this brutal crisis is that it will spark renewed interest in using more of what can be produced locally and supporting our local communities.

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