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Fruit and Vegetables

How is COVID-19 affecting fruit and veg availability and access?

Tracking the pandemic’s impact on the UK’s fruit and vegetable supply chains means following the affordability and accessibility of fruit and veg, as well as labour supply and the quality of jobs in horticulture. We’ll be monitoring movement in these areas and watching in real-time as COVID-19 shapes the future of British horticulture.

Return to our homepage to view the COVID-19 Tracker in full.

Covid-19 costs continue to erode growers’ confidence 

A report by Andersons Centre and funded by the NFU, British Apples and Pears, British Summer Fruits and British Growers Association, shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the costs of production for all fruit and vegetable growers. This comes most significantly from a rise in employment costs of up to 15%. For many growers, employment is their most significant cost, accounting for 40-70% of all costs. Five main categories were noted in which employment costs had increased, including worker availability and recruitment, training, accommodation, transport and logistics and operations. The increases, the report states, come on top of a 34% rise in labour costs over the past five years. As a result, there are low levels of confidence in the sector, and businesses are less able to make investmentsmeaning there is real concern that future planting could face a downturn. NFU horticulture board chair, Ali Capper, noted “It will not be long before this becomes unviable for many farm businesses and they will have to significantly reduce or halt investment in their business”. Capper also noted, however, that “this sector is very ambitious to expand”, and in order to do that “growers need certainty, confidence and fair returns to make that investment.” 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers do not consider pineapple a staple fruit 

According to pineapple suppliers the sales of many exotic fruits, including pineapples, has fallen in recent months. They attribute this to a lower spending pattern during the pandemic on foods that are not considered staple foods, unlike top fruits (such as apples) and citrus, which have been selling well. 

 

UK’s fresh produce supply under Covid-19 and no-deal departure from the EU

LSE researchers Cesar Revoredo-Giha and Montserrat Costa-Font argue that evidence of price increases during Covid-19 indicates that a no-deal Brexit could lead to price increases. Comparing this March and April to last year’s March and April the authors show that whilst the prices of some vegetables have gone down such as potatoes and carrots, others have gone up such as tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and cauliflower. The example of tomatoes, which are 78.6% imported, is interesting: tomatoes saw a significant increase in non-EU imports in the first quarter of 2020, going from 17.4% in the first quarter of 2019 to 29.4% during the same period in 2020 – at the same time prices went up significantly (13.2% up April 2020 compared to April 2019). For fruit, small oranges have increased significantly in price (around 16%) and grapes but melons have declined in price. Food Foundation analysis here show that veg prices during Covid-19 overall have remained fairly similar year on year but that fruit prices have increased significantly compared to last year. It is clear that disruptions to the system effect prices and often, though not consistently, this leads to price increases which can have direct knock on effects to the affordability of a healthy diet

TOM’S STORY: challenges to accessing an affordable healthy diet, and opportunities for change

Tom Mitchell, 18, lives in Scotland, and is a Veg Advocate for the Peas Please initiative, which works to increase vegetable consumption across the UK. Veg Advocates help drive change by challenging the food system to do better, and using their veg experience to give advice about what’s been done so far, and what needs to happen now to get the nation eating more veg.

My name is Tom and when it comes to food, I’ve had a mixed experience.

Growing up in an impoverished household I spent most of my younger to early teens living on cheap, high-fat foods, which had made an impact on both my physical and mental health.

That’s not to say I didn’t have properly cooked foods, which I did, but often it was the portioning of food groups that was off: when having Spaghetti Bolognese I would have both garlic bread and a sugary pudding. Now I limit my carb intake by balancing my food.

Two years ago, my family and I set out to alter our lifestyle. This entailed eating better quality foods, taking up exercise and a more positive mindset by moving to a better area.

Between last year and now I have lost over five stone and I’m now in the healthy weight category and have never felt so good about myself. This sense of accomplishment has pushed me to a career in the health and fitness sector. I’m going through both the higher education route and I’m also training to become a PT with my local army regiment.

Now, I could sit here and state the obvious: you should be eating at least seven fruit and veg a day, but during these times that’s neither possible nor practical, for example in my hometown of Kirkcaldy, we’ve seen a decline of quality of fresh fruit and its shelf life at many of our local supermarkets.

This rapid change in accessibility, however, is also bringing about some positive changes, whether that’s coming up with creative new recipes or having a radical overhaul of what we eat; introducing new foods and flavours to our diet which is enhancing our relationship with food. One change for example, which we (my family and I) intend to keep, even when things improve, is swapping regular milk for coconut and almond milk which is full of fibre content.

During the lockdown my experience with fruit and veg has been a mixed bag. At no point could I not access any of the fruit or veg I desired, however more often than not after two weeks of the lockdown the quality of fruit declined, often going mouldy before its expiry date. One thing I noticed about this is that it depended on what supermarket I shopped at so I assumed it must be down to their suppliers. One other key factor I noticed was that the later it got into the week, the more the fruit on the shelves went off. The price of everything never seemed to change so that was a plus.

Now, if I was to offer a suggestion for people to increase their vegetable intake, it would probably target those with little-to-no kitchen skills. I feel vegetables could easily be incorporated into ready meals or maybe a healthy fast food initiative could be started to offer healthily cooked, high-vitamin packed meals for those who want them. It’s not only about increasing our daily intake its about accessing veg and being able to afford them.

 

School fruit and veg scheme suspension causes concern 

The Government’s School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme, which enables Children in Reception and Year One to receive a portion of fruit or vegetable a day at break time, was suspended due to coronavirus. Research has  now shown that during lockdown the country’s most disadvantaged children have been eating less fruit, fewer vegetables, and more salty and sugary snacks and drinks. 

The Department of Health and Social Care has issued a statement saying, “the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme has been paused so as little fresh produce goes to waste as possible while we work to bring more children back to school” and that “funding which would have been spent on the scheme is being used to support the NHS and other priorities during the pandemic.”

Parents say the Government needs to bring fruit and vegetables back to the classroom now so that the most vulnerable children have access to nutritional food. 

 

Food Foundation analysis: fruit and vegetable prices

The Agricultural Prices Index, a monthly government publication that reflects the price farmers receive for their products, also referred to as farm gate price, shows that there have been some increases in the prices received by fruit farmers between January and April and compared to the same months last year. However, prices received by vegetable farmers have barely changed over the same time period or compared to last year. This is despite large increases in costs being reported as a result of social distancing measures and costs of recruitment. 

Have a look at our data visualisations here.

Huge rise in farm shops sales

Research by the Farm Retail Association (FRA) has found that 92% of farm retailers reported a significant rise in new customers since lockdown rules began in March. They estimate that the UK’s network of farm shops now has a combined turnover of more than £1.5bn, including sales from farm shop cafés. Part of the reason for success, they claim, is that farm shops have regularly replenished shelves to establish themselves as reliable local food providers and provided calm environments with easy-to-follow social distancing measures as well as new online ordering services. Around 79% of farm retailers said they had introduced a click-and-collect service because of coronavirus and 67% said they had introduced home deliveries. As a result, farm shops across the UK have processed an estimated 1.4 million or more orders for home delivery or collection since the government’s lockdown measures began.

 

Only 19% of thousands signing up for Feed the Nation jobs are committing to interview

Only 19% of the thousands of people signing up for Feed the Nation jobs are committing to an interview. Recruitment agencies HOPS, Concordia and Fruitful jobs who formed an alliance for the Feed the Nation campaign, which is linked to the government backed Pick for Britain campaign, report that although thousands of people have come forward and expressed an interest, only 19% have committed to an interview. They suggest this is to do with a reluctance for UK workers to relocate from their homes for a four to six month seasonal job.

Massive decrease in fruit and vegetable intake reported by children receiving free school meals following lockdown

A massive decrease in fruit and vegetable intake has been reported by children receiving free school meals under lockdown. Preliminary findings of a detailed study of 60 nine-to-twelve-year-olds in London and the North East of England by Northumbria University’s Healthy Living Lab shows a significant decrease in the amount of fruit children have been eating. Before school closures they ate, on average, just over one portion of fruit per day. During the three-day reporting period during lockdown, almost half of the children (45%) said they hadn’t eaten any fruit, with the remaining children eating an average of half a portion of fruit per day.

Similar results were seen in the children’s responses on the amount of vegetables they had eaten. More than half of the children (55%) said they had not eaten any fresh vegetables during the three days during lockdown. The mean vegetable intake dropped from just over two portions per day when children were attending school, to an average of half a portion per day at home.

However, a four-fold increase was reported in the amount of sugar-sweetened drinks consumed, together with a substantial rise in the amount of crisps, chocolates and sweets being eaten. Children’s consumption of unhealthy snacks increased from an average of one over the three days when they were at school to six portions across three days at home during lockdown.