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As shoppers look to reduce their trips out of the house amid the coronavirus outbreak, weekly sales of veg boxes in the UK have more than doubled. According to new data from the Food Foundation gathered through surveys of 101 UK veg box schemes, sales increased by 111% in the six weeks from the end of February to mid-April.
With about 500 schemes operating in the UK, a total of 3.5 million boxes were delivered to households over the last six weeks, the Food Foundation estimates. But producers of veg boxes are struggling to cope with the rising demand, with 82% of those surveyed putting waiting lists in place and turning away orders. The average waiting list numbered 160 people, while the largest box scheme surveyed had turned away 6,700 customers.
If these waiting lists could be met and the customers being turned away were supplied instead, an estimated 5.3 million veg boxes could be supplied over the next six weeks, the Food Foundation found.
Veg box businesses are calling for government support in the form of small grants so they can scale up to meet demand. “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. To deal with this we have had to invest rapidly in additional infrastructure, labour and equipment without any security that this demand will stay,” says Adam Payne from the Landworkers’ Alliance and Southern Roots Growers.
“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.” Investment could help with staffing and supplies as well as necessary infrastructure, such as polytunnels, delivery vehicles, cold stores and packing houses.
“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,” says Anna Taylor, Executive Director of the Food Foundation.
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