Fruit and Vegetables

What is impacting the amount of Fruit and Veg eaten and grown in the UK?

Fruit and Veg consumption is the biggest marker of dietary inequality, with the rich eating more than the poor. With consumption persistently below recommended levels even before Covid-19 and Brexit, we look at these and other food system shocks to explore how they are impacting both consumption and production. We know that levels of production, especially of vegetables, have been declining in the UK and that the sector perhaps hasn’t had the support it requires to flourish. We’ll explore what needs to happen to support the sector to deliver environmental benefits and contribute to increasing consumption. On top of this we’ll share people’s experiences of accessing fruit and vegetables to better inform how to improve things for both people and planet.

View our UK Food Tracker in full

Veg Voice Report: Covid Veg

This week Peas Please published Covid Veg, a qualitative evidence of people’s experiences of accessing fruit and veg during UK-wide COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 (June–Aug). It showed that the ongoing crisis has brought to the fore the problems of a food system which provides healthy food at a cost that is now beyond the affordability of a significant proportion of the population (Food Foundation, 2020a).

In the qualitative data gathered, only people on incomes of less than £2000 per month reported experiencing problems accessing fruit and veg, and those with incomes of less than £500 per month reported significantly lower veg consumption. This adds to the evidence that affordability is a key barrier when it comes to consumption of healthy diets in the UK – this is something that measures to increase consumption have to address.

Inability to access enough fruit and veg, particularly at the beginning of the first lockdown and particularly in relation to supermarkets, was seen as a problem, with a perception that quality was lower and prices higher. Some mentioned that empty supermarket shelves had highlighted to them the fragility of the food supply system. There was much gratitude expressed to local food suppliers. But, those who used local or independent suppliers were more likely to be on higher household incomes and to report reliable access to quality fruit and veg.

All except one of participants in the £3000+ per month income bracket either used a farm shop or veg box scheme, or grew their own fruit and veg. Many reported turning to growing in their own gardens and allotments, or with communal growing projects. When asked what could be done to help people eat more fruit and veg, increasing the number of local fruit and veg producers/retailers and delivery services was seen as important, as was education / cooking classes and more grow your own / communal growing initiatives. Making fruit and veg more affordable was mentioned most often.

This is at a time when, according to the UK’s Consumer Price Index (CPI), average retail prices of fruit and veg have remained fairly static or lower than the previous year, though data from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS, 2020) found grocery price inflation in the first month of lockdown primarily due to a reduction in the number of promotions. Participants suggested that major structural change to our food system is needed to enable barriers to be overcome in any meaningful way, particularly redressing the cost balance between healthy and unhealthy foods. Several participants saw problems around accessing fruit and veg to be rooted in broader economic structures and inequality, suggesting that these need to change rather than just the price tag placed on fruit and veg at point of sale.

An apple a day

It’s the UK apple season and British Apples and Pears have joined forces with Raymond Blanc to help promote British Apples. Ali Capper, at FPJ Live, stated that we each eat about half an apple a day and the UK and British Apples and Pears have set an ambition to increase this to ‘an apple a day’. This was seen as particularly important in the drive to improve the health of the nation in the shadow of COVID-19. Capper noted that British apples currently make up around 40% of total sales in the UK but that there was no reason that this should not be higher and that the ambition was to increase this to 60% by 2030. 9 million apple trees have been planted in the UK in the last decade.  

AHDB Levy ballot to be held

At Fresh Produce Journal Live (FPJ Live) today, the annual fresh produce event, Nicholas Saphir revealed that a petition by 8% of all horticulture producers has successfully triggered a vote on the statutory levy paid by horticultural producers. Levy payers, probably in January 2021, will get a chance to vote on whether the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) will continue to provide a statutory levy-funded service to horticulture producers or not.

Some producers have argued that the Levy does not offer good value for money and is disproportionate to their profits, especially given increases in costs seen as a result of COVID-19. AHDB state they would rather work with industry to enhance the offering, modernise the way levy is collected and continue to work with growers to improve efficiency and profitability. All will get a chance to present their views before the ballot is held. Ministers will get the final say.

Fruitbox insight into what’s next for fruit and veg business

In this week’s Fruitbox podcast, host Chris White speaks to Mike Knowles and Maura Maxwell of Fruitnet about the trends and ongoing challenges faced by the European fresh fruit and veg business as a result of COVID-19. They reflect that, although the surges in demand that were seen at the beginning of lock down have leveled out, two longer term trends that seem set to stay (and accentuated by a second wave) are expansion of online retail and delivery options.

They reflect that COVID-19 has accelerated these trends and now sales are becoming a newer 21st century hybrid mix of retail/food service/takeaways and deliveries. More producers across the world are supplying directly to customers through online platforms. Reflecting on Italy’s production, Mike noted that apples, pears and kiwis have done very well and as the new season for these fruits approaches they have good export prospects. According to Maura, Spain has had one of it’s best seasons so far in recent years and producers responded well to COVID-19.

With the veg and citrus season just about to start Spain are wondering if demand will continue to be strong as there are some signs that consumer spending is slowing. Brexit is also causing concern as tariffs that are likely to come in on January 1st 2021 on citrus, for example 16% for Spanish mandarins and clementines, may put Spain at a serious competitive disadvantage with countries like Morocco, Egypt and Turkey. 

Netherlands based Organic supplier says demand for plastic packaging has passed

The demand for plastic packaging on organic fruit and veg seen in the early stage of COVID-19 didn’t last very long according to OTC Organics, a Netherlands fruit and veg supplier. Organic fruit and vegetables packed in paper or cardboard are now back on the shelves in Europe. 

Herb sales soar

Waitrose has reported a surge in the popularity of fresh herbs. The supermarket says both pre-cut and potted options have seen an uplift, with sales up 16% year on year perhaps as a result of consumers cooking and preparing more meals from home during the Covid crisis.  Potted coriander saw the most significant growth, with a sales increase of 52% compared to last year. Over the last three months cut herbs have also seen an increase, up 11% against the same period last year. Basil saw the largest growth, with sales up 40%, followed by coriander up 35%. On, searches for ‘fresh herbs’ over the last three months were up 162% compared to last year and ‘potted fresh herbs’ up 175%.   

Morrisons cut fruit and veg prices

Morrisons is cutting the price of 400 of its most popular food items, including fruit and vegetables. The supermarket said it is making the move, which will see prices dropped by an average of 23%, to ensure good food is affordable for families at a time budgets are under pressure. Discounts include round lettuce down by 20p to 45p, 6p off a 2.5kg bag of baking potatoes making it £1.39 and 41p off a six-pack of Granny Smith apples making it £1.19.  

Why urban farming should flourish post pandemic

Dan Evans, senior research associate in physical geography, and Jess Davies, chair professor in sustainability at Lancaster University, have outlined why fruit and veg production in towns and cities must become a central theme going forward 

They reflect on the increase in interest in gardening since lockdown as shown by seed packets flying off shelves and allotment waiting lists swelling. They suggest that the fear of food shortages will have motivated some, but others with more time on their hands at home will have been tempted by the chance to relieve stress doing a wholesome family activity. They outline four reasons why food growing should become a perennial feature in our gardens, towns and cities after COVID-19: 

  1. Growing greener towns and cities
  2. Resilient food supplies
  3. Healthier lives
  4. Healthier ecosystems

They say “All these reasons and more should compel us to scale up food production in towns in cities. COVID-19 has given us cause to re-evaluate how important local urban green spaces are to us, and what we want from our high streets, parks and pavements. Judging by the garden centre sales, allotment lists and social media, many people have decided they want more fruit and veggies in those spaces. The opportunity is there for urban planners and developers to consider what bringing farming to urban landscapes could offer.”