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

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.

Wales fruit and veg producers respond to demand

A survey of fruit and veg producers in Wales, conducted by Cardiff University, the Food Foundation, Food Sense Wales and Tyfu Cymru, finds:

  1. Most growers experienced sudden and dramatic increases in demand for their produce. These have continued beyond an initial phase of stocking up.
  2. Despite the sudden loss of usual trading routes growers have not been generating surplus. Producers responded quickly to find alternative sales routes, with many diverting from catering trade to home deliveries.
  3. Growers are experiencing strains on workload and capacity due to the combination of worker unavailability and pressures from additional or unfamiliar tasks.
  1. There is a clear willingness and potential to increase fruit and vegetable production in Wales. However, most growers lack the resources to achieve this, particularly at short notice.
  2. The sector is currently demonstrating its value as a supplier of fresh produce to Welsh consumers. With appropriate support this could become continued growth.

Support which could quickly expand production in Wales were suggested and included:

  1. Grants to enable new entrants to set up their enterprise.
  2. Services to match available farmland to growers seeking new or expanded production sites.
  3. Online skill-share networks or matching services.
  4. A Welsh marketing campaign to promote local produce.
  5. Coordination between growers and supply chain actors to allow complementary growing plans.
  6. Distribution hubs similar to Open Food Networks.
  7. Coordination to promote resource matching and equipment sharing.

The full report can be found here with thanks to Hannah Pitt from Cardiff University.

Concern over lack of fruit and vegetable workers in the UK

According to the head of policy at the Sustainable Food Trust, until the 1980s, seasonal jobs in horticulture were done in large part by UK students during university holidays. Large-scale fruit and veg production in the UK now relies on around 75,000-80,000 workers, the majority from the EU from Poland, Latvia, Romania and Bulgaria. Early on in this crisis large-scale producers recognised that with restriction of movement due to Coronavirus, that they would not meet these numbers, although there has been some movement of workers to the UK via specially chartered flights and there were some workers who were planting and who are now staying to harvest.

Of course, the UK is not alone in the challenges faced by fruit and vegetable producers. In Spain it is estimated that tens of thousands more pickers are needed over the coming months to harvest the stone fruit crop alone.

On the 17th March HOPS launched a recruitment drive for British workers and by the 31st March 10,000 had been recruited. Gs Fresh Produce also launched a ‘Feed our nation’ campaign which has been inundated with applications. On the 26th March the NFU also launched a ‘Pick for Britain’ campaign.  On the 7th April it was estimated that 26,000 UK workers had signed up to pick fruit and veg in the UK. Online job site Totaljobs has recorded an 83% increase in applications for farming roles. The Government has responded to the NFU’s request for furloughed workers to be allowed to work on UK farms and this is leading to increased applications.

It is anticipated that after Public Health England announce new health and safety guidelines on social distancing in farm settings (due the week beginning 13th April),  that the Government will announce the development of a new portal to match furloughed and other workers with fruit and veg producers in need of labour.

Even if just 10% of the new cohort of UK fruit and veg workers stay in the industry after the crisis this still represents a significant expansion in the UK horticultural workforce going forward.

188,576 tonnes of potatoes facing risk of landfill

An estimated 188,576 tonnes of potatoes are facing landfill in the UK due to the closure of chip shops. In Wales, potatoes from Puffin Produce are being bought and distributed as emergency food provision to people who are shielding. With much of the UK fruit and veg produce due to be harvested in the coming months, it will be vital to ensure that pre-coronavirus supply lines to the (currently closed) hospitality sector can be redirected where needed. See here for more news on produce being distributed in this area.