Does the unprecedented rise in demand for Veg Boxes indicate a permanent shift from old buying habits?

As a nation we have been privileged over the last decades that we can expect to get our hands on any food, ingredients or beverages we fancy, largely from across the globe, with only a quick trip to the supermarket or an online click.

In the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, these previously taken for granted purchases are not as easily accessible or are simply no longer a priority on our shopping lists.

But, had we forgotten about how fortunate we actually were to have locally grown produce sitting on our doorsteps? 

Tyfu Cymru has seen increased demand for uptake of ‘veg-boxes’ and local fruit and vegetable supply and seed supply at an unprecedented rate. Purchasing habits have moved to local growers and suppliers. With a great surge in commodity purchases, is this a U-turn away from old buying habits?  And, more importantly, will this new-found focus on local be a permanent change to shopper behaviour?

This demand in part is driven by those self-isolating or in a bid to avoid the crowds seen in large supermarkets. But the choice to go local could also be deeper routed. With towns and villages across Wales demonstrating that community spirit is in fact alive and well, are consumers re-thinking buying habits in a bid to support those growers local to them?

Many Welsh growers and suppliers are adapting their selling channels to accommodate this demand, and have quickly adapted to launch ‘veg box’ schemes, deliveries collaborating with other Welsh food producers, moving online or setting up call and collect services.

A recent survey with fruit and vegetable growers in Wales regarding their immediate experiences of and responses to the Covid 19 (C19) crisis conducted by Peas Please, Tyfu Cymru and Cardiff University, highlighted that most growers experienced sudden and dramatic increases in demand for their produce. These have continued beyond an initial phase of panic buying.

It also revealed that 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. In fact, when asked about planned changes to production in response to the crisis 73% said they have changes planned, which include introducing box schemes, increasing production and changing crops or varieties grown.

The sector is currently demonstrating its value as a supplier of Welsh quality fresh produce to Welsh consumers.

As the pandemic changes the food and drink consumer market, it is unclear whether this is a short-term shift or a long-term change, only time will tell. Will we continue to enjoy the tastes of local and fresh produce, and the undoubted feel good factor that comes with supporting local, or as restrictions lift will we fall back into old buying habits?

What is clear is that the pandemic opens prospects for local growers, the current surge in demand for Welsh-grown produce is a huge opportunity, which will ideally be converted into continued custom in the longer term. 

Tyfu Cymru are in place to support the commercial horticulture sector with readily available specialist training and supporting grower business capitalise on these opportunities throughout these changing times. The Tyfu Cymru project supports growers to achieve continued growth by ensuring they have the skills, capacity, resilience and knowledge they need to build sustainable horticulture businesses.

Tyfu Cymru is led by Lantra Wales and has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.