E-commerce is unlocking new fresh produce markets

Since the start of the Covid pandemic, online sales have boomed. And it’s not just online alcohol sales that spiked in lockdown; health-conscious consumers were keen for fresh produce delivered to their door, causing meat deliveries and veg boxes to soar in popularity.

Data gathered by The Food Foundation from more than 100 veg box schemes found sales rocketed by 111% during the six weeks from the end of February to mid-April. But while larger schemes like Abel & Cole and Riverford Organic Farms reported steep rises, smaller box schemes were particularly in-demand, with sales growing by 134%.

The group estimated that 3.5 million veg boxes were likely to have been delivered over the period, and with 82% of box schemes having a waiting list as of April, demand was clearly outstripping supply.

Ben White-Hamilton, founder of Harvest Bundle, a digital marketplace that brings shoppers high-quality produce from farms around the UK, is a big believer in farms and farm shops taking advantage of their online opportunities.

“People don’t live near farms anymore, they live in cities. Farmers’ markets have worked well for centuries, but with people leading lives that are incredibly busy it’s often hard to make time to visit them,” he told specialityfoodmagazine.com. “What e-commerce allows is modern technology applied to an almost forgotten historic tradition of buying direct.”

This, combined with the trend of more people wanting to support local businesses “has formed a potent mix and sped up the whole process of people shopping for food directly from the businesses who they want to support,” White-Hamilton said.

Rosie Jack, the manager at Bowhouse, which connects small growers and producers in Scotland with shoppers, argued that not every farmer needs – or wants – to have a digital presence: “While many farmers are happy to engage on social media, others communicate this in different ways. There’s really no substitute for face-to-face conversations at markets and on the farm.”

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