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.

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. 


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.