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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.

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Supply is impacted globally

Head of Vanguard International, a US based grower, distributer and marketer says that given the nature of the food supply chain – “an incredibly connected web of agricultural inputs, fruit packers and processors, transportation, shipping, and more” – disruption to both supply and demand of fresh produce was inevitable, but that the “industry has been built on its ability to adopt, adapt, and change quickly.” In Europe there are warnings that fresh produce is set to become more scarce due to impacts on labour and transport.

High percentage of people in UK worried about fruit and veg access – findings from Food Foundation You Gov poll

Those particularly worried include the unemployed and those not working, so concerns are likely to be due to lack of income.

Also worried are 58% of NHS workers, more likely to do with lack of time and potentially empty shelves in supermarkets, as exemplified by this clip of critical care nurse Dawn Bilbrough crying as she can’t find any buy any fresh fruit and veg in the supermarket after a 48 hour shift.

Finally, 78% of parents whose children are entitled to free school meals were also worried that they wouldn’t be able to get enough fruit and veg. This is perhaps reflecting evidence that at this stage of of the  emergency alternative school meal provision across the UK is very variable and sometimes contains no fruit or vegetables at all.

Large and small-scale producers alike have to find new markets for their produce overnight as cafés, pubs and restaurants  are told to close

Small-scale and large-scale producers are innovating and re-organising themselves to find new markets for their produce. Asparagus producers are particularly concerned as a majority of their produce is destined for the out of home sector – consequently they are searching for alternative markets such as box schemes.

The Landworkers Alliance (LWA), Organic Growers Alliance (OGA) and the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Network UK set up a self-support online doc to help match businesses in need of produce to those with surplus.

Huge increase in demand for veg box schemes

Riverford see demand for boxes skyrocket with highest number of orders ever seen outside of Christmas. Abel and Cole, who usually delivers over 55,000 food boxes, see demand go up 25%. According to Riverford managing director Rob Howard “This has been driven by those self-isolating for coronavirus or avoiding public shopping spaces to protect themselves by choosing home delivery, as well as the demand for healthy, organic food”. Veg box schemes are responding to demand and increasing orders but some are having to close ordering intermittently and have waiting lists.

Food Foundation is working with other partners to gather data on veg box increases across the UK, as well as what box schemes are doing to help the vulnerable. We will be publishing findings in coming weeks – watch this space.

Empty supermarkets shelves as people buy more fruit and veg before the imminent lockdown

But increase in volume sales of fresh, compared to last March, is only up 14% – the lowest of all grocery categories. The greatest growth comes in healthcare 49%, household 40%, toiletries 30%, frozen 28%, ambient 27% and alcohol 18%.

Data provided by Kantar for Food Foundation analysis.

Empty supermarkets shelves as people buy more fruit and veg before the imminent lockdown

But increase in volume sales of fresh, compared to last March, is only up 14% – the lowest of all grocery categories. The greatest growth comes in healthcare 49%, household 40%, toiletries 30%, frozen 28%, ambient 27% and alcohol 18%.

Data provided by Kantar for Food Foundation analysis.

Introduction: fruit and veg access and availability during COVID-19 –

By Amber Wheeler

Here we will be looking at the impact of COVID-19 on fruit and vegetable supply chains, and how the pandemic affects UK production (large and small-scale) and people’s access to fruit and veg, particularly in the most vulnerable groups.

Fruit and vegetables are a major part of a healthy diet – government dietary advice says they should make up 40% of what an adult eats (by weight of consumed food). They are also the biggest marker of dietary inequality where we see the greatest difference between the diets of the rich and the poor. With the possible exception of oily fish, fruit and veg are the only food groups that the government wants us to be eating more of, to improve our dietary health and reduce the burden of diet-related illness on the NHS.

Although our levels of self-sufficiency in fruit have remained similar for the last 30 years, our self-sufficiency in veg has declined significantly. Thirty years ago, 83% of the veg we ate came from the UK, and now it is only 53%. 58% of our veg imports now come from Spain and the Netherlands and 38% of our fruit imports from Spain, South Africa and the Netherlands. Declining self-sufficiency is not considered to be a concern in a context of frictionless trade.

During this time supply chains in the UK have also consolidated, with large-scale production being processed and packed in industrial pack houses and transported to centralised warehouses for supermarket distribution. The infrastructure for small-scale horticulture and agriculture has, at the same time, diminished.

In 2018 the Food Foundation helped launch the Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, made up of a diverse group of producer organisations who are unified by a desire to get the nation producing and eating more fruit and vegetables. The Food Foundation continues to support the Fruit and Vegetable Alliance.

The COVID-19 crisis is testing the current system and we’ll be tracking its impact, following the availability and accessibility of fruit and veg in the UK, as well as labour developments and the quality of jobs in large and small-scale horticulture. We’ll also be reflecting on people’s experiences of accessing fruit and vegetables. We’ll be monitoring movement in these areas and watching in real-time to see what lessons can be learnt to inform the future development of fruit and vegetable supply chains – ones that that best meet the needs of all people in the UK.