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.

Europe’s Fruit Growers Prepare for Tough Harvest

EU growers are preparing for summer and autumn harvests of apples, pears and grapes but many fear resurgent outbreaks of Covid-19 and a return to localized lockdowns – increasing the likelihood that migrant workers will be unable to help with the harvest. 
Daniel Sauvaitre, head of a French Apple and Pear Association says “We are worried. We had the manpower we needed for the thinning work in orchards, and the harvest looks pretty good. But we may very well have a country that’s closing again.” 
Covid-19 cases among agricultural workers, including on some fruit farms in southern France, are adding to concerns. This was highlighted when more than 70 workers, who were picking and packing vegetables, tested positive at a farm in Herefordshire earlier this month.

Tesco extends improved payment terms

Tesco is extending its improved payment terms scheme for its smaller suppliers until 31 January 2021. 
The initiative was brought in to assist small suppliers at the start of the Covid-19 crisis and the extension means that 2,000 suppliers will continue to have their invoices paid immediately, instead of after 14 days. 
Tesco claims the extension has been put in place to ensure suppliers are supported throughout the busy Christmas period and beyond. It will be interesting to see whether these improved payment terms endure beyond Covid-19. 

Free grocery delivery for amazon prime customers

Amazon has moved into the grocery market in the UK. Amazon Prime members will get unlimited free grocery deliveries, starting in London and expanding across the UK by the end of the year. Free delivery of Amazon Fresh products – including fresh produce – will be made available to Prime members in two-hour windows on orders over £40. Amazon say the free grocery delivery service would be rolled out to millions of Prime members across the country by the end of the year.

CASE STUDY: supplying fresh fruit and veg to West Yorkshire during Covid-19

In May, Rethink Food, a charity working to empower people to live food secure lives, was awarded £90,000 in funding from DEFRA as part of the government’s fund targeted at providing food for those struggling during Covid-19. With the focus of emergency food aid often on food and energy provision rather than nutrition, RethinK Food worked to ensure vulnerable groups were still able to include fruit and veg in their diets. Over 9 weeks these funds have been used to buy fresh fruit and veg to support families and individuals from across the West Yorkshire region. To support more resilient local food economies, all food was sourced from a local supplier in Leeds, with a range of of seasonal produce purchased including; potatoes, apples, broccoli, grapes, peppers, carrots, satsumas, courgettes, bananas and aubergine. In addition to receiving the food, all recipients were signposted to
entry level instructional video clips to demonstrate how the fruit and veg could be prepared as part of a meal. As a result:  

  • 75 schools across Leeds and Bradford have received weekly donations of food (7.5 tonnes per week) 
  • Each school then supports targeted families within their own school community. 
  • 14 community groups have received food. These donations have been used to provide meals to vulnerable members of the local community each week (3.2 tonnes per week) 
  • 1.5 tonnes per week is being delivered to Leeds City Council central food distribution warehouse where it is being used to make up food parcels for vulnerable citizens. 
  • During the summer holidays, 30 Healthy Holiday clubs will receive food donations to help feed children accessing their provision. 

Here’s what some of the recipients of the food have said in response to this work“I’d just like to say a massive thank you for the delivery of fruit and vegetables today. I was really humbled by the amount and families were grateful and thrilled. Thank you so much.”
“Huge thanks for our delivery of food for our community. Lots of happy families this afternoon.”
“The fresh fruit and veg will help us nourish our community, thank you”.  

A full evaluation will be available at the end of August 

Covid-19 outbreak on veg farm forces quarantine

Up to 200 seasonal workers in Herefordshire have gone into quarantine on a bean and broccoli farm after 73 tested positive for Covid-19. Herefordshire Council said it believes the outbreak has been contained on the farm. The workers are being treated as one ‘extended bubble’ and are staying within household groups in separate mobile homes. Public Health England advises that it is very unlikely Covid-19 can be transmitted through food or food packaging, so the virus is unlikely to spread via the vegetables. 

Sustain campaign backs the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme 

Sustain has launched a new campaign to urge government to re-start the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme that was paused due to Coronavirus. They are asking people to sign a petition calling on the Secretary of State for Education, Secretary of State for Health and Minister of State for Schools to reinstate and expand the scheme to all children in primary school and to source high standard British produce. 

Fruit box podcast from Fruitnet: how are shopping habits changing?

In the most recent of the Fruitbox Podcasts, Chris White talked to Jo Shaw Roberts from Kantar about how shopping habits have been affected by the pandemic. Kantar reported that grocery sales have been the highest on record and that fruit and veg sales had benefitted. May 2020 saw 3.4 items bought per day compared to 3.1 the previous May. Organic fruit and veg sales grew significantly during lockdown – ahead of non-organic. Fresh produce has benefitted from people switching directly from prepared food products to home cooking, and it is thought that this trend would be likely to continue for at least two years. In terms of the impact of a recession on purchasing, the podcasts suggests people will continue to buy the same volume, but may shop in cheaper shops or trade down to cheaper products. The recession in 2008, while officially lasting only 15 months, saw consumer buying habits impacted for six years as confidence and real wage growth were slow to bounce back, so it may be that purchasing power does not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2025.


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.