With new figures revealing that weekly sales of UK veg boxes rose by a massive 111% during the six weeks between the end of February and mid-April due to the coronavirus crisis, operators are finding it increasingly hard to meet demand.
Data gathered from 101 UK veg box schemes by The Food Foundation, the Banc CSA Network UK and Better Food Traders, found that the highest growth was experienced by small box schemes who saw sales shoot up by 134%.
However, the data also shows that 82% of schemes were unable to take new orders and now have long waiting lists, with the largest box scheme surveyed turning away 6,700 customers. It is estimated that a total of 3.5 million veg boxes are likely to have been delivered to homes during this time, but The Food Foundation predicts that if orders were fulfilled for people on the waiting lists and customers being turned away, around 5.3 million veg boxes could be supplied in the next six weeks.
In a time of national crisis, fruit and veg producers running box schemes have provided a critical service to their customers and communities: we must ensure our agriculture policy, now and in the future, helps them get the investment they need
These businesses are calling on the Government to support them with grants so they can scale up to meet demand and also it to commit to a long-term plan for a sustainable food and farming system. It is hoped that there will be a move to payments based on delivery of public goods as proposed in the Agriculture Bill, rather than the current area-based payments, so that small producers could operate on a level playing field.
“Like many farms selling into local markets we have seen some of our wholesale markets collapse overnight and demand rocket for veg boxes and deliveries,” explains Adam Payne from the Landworkers’ Alliance and Southern Roots Growers. “To deal with this we have had to invest rapidly in additional infrastructure, labour and equipment without any security that this demand will stay. With all of these additional costs and disruption increased demand doesn’t mean we will make anything this year. We need Government grants for the essential infrastructure to make sure that we can transition our business, supply people who need produce and remain afloat ourselves.”
Anna Taylor, executive director of The Food Foundation, adds: “In a time of national crisis, fruit and veg producers running box schemes have provided a critical service to their customers and communities: we must ensure our agriculture policy, now and in the future, helps them get the investment they need as they play a vital role in supporting access to healthy produce as part of a sustainable food and farming system.”
Photo: Jean Bergin from veg box scheme Local Greens. Image credit: Jonny Hughes