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.

Pickling trend noted by Waitrose

Waitrose has noted an increase in veg sales they attribute to an increase in pickling at home during Covid-19 lockdown. Sales of white wine vinegar, the common vinegar to use for home pickling, have risen by 29% year on year at Waitrose. Online searches on for ‘pickling’ and ‘pickling vinegar’ have risen by 222% and 347% year on year respectively, while the term ‘pickling spices’ has risen by 500%.

Landworkers’ Alliance connects producers with consumers to improve access to food

The Landworkers’ Alliance is working with the Independent Food Aid Network to find ways to connect producers with consumers that improve access to good food for those experiencing household food insecurity or not able to access food for other reasons. Funding has been made available to develop pilot project-testing and to demonstrate how funding to small farms can improve access to good food for all.

They’re asking for expressions of interest from farms who would like to take part in a pilot project to model how agroecological farms can support access to food for people in low income communities, people experiencing food insecurity or people at high risk of Covid-19.

Government announces Pick for Britain campaign to recruit UK horticultural workers

The government has announced the Pick for Britain campaign, acknowledging that due to Covid-19 there are only a third of the workers required to pick the necessary crops in the UK. The NFU estimates that only 1% of horticultural workers are usually British residents, with the majority of the 75,000 workers needed usually come from Bulgaria and Romania and other European countries. With lockdown in place, there is an estimated 50,000-labourer deficit. It is hoped that furloughed staff and those who have recently become unemployed will take up the roles. The predicament begs the question as to whether having only 1% of your workforce resident in the country is a food secure approach, and whether this percentage should be built up to a higher level to complement the skilled labour coming in from other parts of Europe.

Research suggests people are eating more fruit and veg in lockdown

It is unclear yet whether people in the UK are eating more or less fruit and veg during lockdown but some studies are beginning to show that people report buying more. This is backed up by evidence from Kantar, reported in our Big Picture section , that more fruit and veg was purchased in March – though sales went up less in this category than in others. A survey of nearly 11,000 shoppers in 11 countries (Australia, Belgium, Chile, Uganda, the Netherlands, France, Austria, Greece, Canada, Brazil and Ireland) co-ordinated by the University of Antwerp in Belgium has released preliminary findings showing that shoppers have cut spending on ready-made meals and bought more fruit and vegetables, turning to healthier eating during coronavirus lockdown.

In the UK another survey of 2,000 adults by OnePoll and commissioned by Uber Eats, found one in five are enjoying more of their five-a-day now than they did previously. However, 61% said they would like to broaden their horizons by trying more exotic fruit and veg options and 58% wished they knew more about different fruit and veg they could eat. The research also found that the average adult eats around four different varieties of fruit and vegetables a day.


NEW FOOD FOUNDATION DATA: Veg Box sales increase by 111% in six weeks as a result of Covid-19

Read the full report here. Have a look at our data visualisations here

  • New data from the Food Foundation shows that UK veg box sales have increased by 111% in the six weeks between the end of February 2020 and mid-April 2020
  • A survey of 101 veg box schemes across the UK shows weekly sales of veg boxes have more than doubled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic
  • 82% of box schemes now have waiting lists and are closed to new orders, with the average waiting list numbering 160 customers
  • A total of 3.5 million veg boxes are likely to have been delivered since the beginning of March, but if waiting lists could be met, 5.3 million veg boxes could be supplied over the next six weeks
  • 65% of box schemes are actively prioritising key workers, the vulnerable or isolating
  • Veg box schemes are calling for support in the form of Government investment grants to help upscale fruit and vegetable supply to meet increased demand. 

Low take up rate for jobs in horticulture as concern grows about potential labour shortages  

Only 150 people have taken up jobs picking fruit and vegetables in the UK following a recruitment drive by Concordia, a charity that garnered 50,000 expressions of interest. The low conversion rate highlights the potential problems the UK faces, having historically relied on around 70,000 overseas seasonal workers who normally pick crops from lettuce to berries and apples during the summer harvest season, which is fast approaching. 

Furloughed staff urged to harvest fruit and veg in order to fill migrant labour gap 

The number of seasonal migrant farm workers in Britain stands at around a third of its typical level at this time of year, according to environment secretary George Eustice, with reports that the UK government plans to step up its campaign to recruit furloughed workers into agriculture. With almost four million UK workers absent from their workplaces on ‘furlough’, the farming and horticultural industry hopes many will help fill the agricultural gap given the sector’s reliance on seasonal migrant labour. Furloughed staff cannot work for their employers, but can take up temporary work elsewhere.

“We are working with industry to identify an approach that will encourage those millions of furloughed workers in some cases to consider taking a second job, helping get the harvest in in June,” Eustice said in the Downing Street coronavirus briefing on Sunday. 


Eastern Europeans flown in to pick fruit and vegetables  

Eastern European farm workers are being flown to the UK on charter flights to pick fruit and vegetable crops as Britain approaches the summer picking season.  

Air Charter Service told the BBC that six planes are set to operate between mid-April and the end of June. DEFRA said it was encouraging people across the UK “to help bring the harvest in” as concern grows over potential labour shortages, with the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) estimating that up to 70,000 fruit and vegetable pickers were needed.  

More surplus fruit and veg being re-directed to people through charities

Waste Knot, a Worcestershire business founded in 2016 to create a market for farmers to supply misshapen and surplus vegetables to hospitality, catering and charities, says that the amount of fruit and veg being redistributed since lockdown began has increased significantly. This has been driven by the increase in demand from charities who support the vulnerable and from increased surplus produce as a result of the out of home sector’s closure.