Early on in the pandemic, food delivery services exploded in popularity. Delivery slots for supermarkets were hard to come by. I remember people offering to buy for neighbours via our neighbourhood WhatsApp group. Vegetable box services struggled to keep pace with the rise in demand. My own provider had to drastically cut its assortment and stop taking new costumers, in order to guarantee it could actually deliver. Two years on, going to a supermarket or farmer’s market is no longer a fuss for many (remember the queues?!), but that’s no reason to stop using delivery services. In fact, when it comes to shopping for produce, sustainability and convenience can definitely go hand in hand.
So why should you get a veggie box delivered to you? Let’s start with the obvious: you won’t have to go to a supermarket. Not only is that convenient, but over a decade of price wars has made farming dramatically less profitable, even if it has been good for the consumer wallet. Jeremy Clarkson’s latest show on Amazon Prime highlights the struggle for British farmers. The people who produce are food are among the most essential of workers, but they are not rewarded for it. Buying directly from farmers, whether it’s on the farmer’s market or through a veggie box, can definitely help them.
The other major benefit is sustainability. First, you’ll eat more local and seasonally, which limits food miles, particularly through air freight, and destructive farming practices, not to mention exploitation of farm workers in countries like Spain and Morocco - think on this when next you buy raspberries or asparagus out of season. Second, you’ll reduce single-use plastics. While these plastics are vital in fighting food waste in supermarkets by extending shelf life, you often don’t need them if you get food directly from the farm. Not to mention some veggie box services have been working on biodegradable alternatives. Third, some delivery companies, particularly local ones, are using alternative modes of delivery such as electric vans or even bikes, significantly cutting down on air pollution and climate change.
But is the quality of veggie boxes also better than supermarkets? That is to some extent a subjective assessment. I have been using a veggie box for three years. In that time, I’ve had the best figs and blueberries of my life – seriously, I had no idea they could taste this amazing – but also disappointing avocados – like, how?! On balance, I’d say the quality is better. Mostly when I now buy produce from a supermarket, I do find it lacks a bit of flavour. Veggie boxes also offer more variety, meaning you will be eating vegetables you hadn’t hear off before, or at least hadn’t cooked with before.
With all that, the question remains: which veggie box should you get? There is a ton of options. My initial goal for this blog was to get an overview of vegetable box services, to help you get a sense of what’s on offer. However, focusing only on veggie boxes that do national delivery, I quickly got to 18. There’s no way to discuss them all. So instead, I’m just going to talk briefly about some of the things you might want to consider when choosing a box.
When it comes to sustainability, your main focus will likely be on local, seasonal and organic. With local, there is some flexibility. While you can get purely UK-grown produce through, for example, the Riverford 100% UK box, you will get food from Europe and even further away (Swedish bananas probably don’t taste very good). Most veggie box services will aim to strike a balance. Companies like Abel & Cole and Riverford will offer less variety, but more local, whereas Natoora is more into exotic vegetables and thus sources more from the Mediterranean. This also means that seasonal varies: there is very little in season in the UK around April/May, unlike in countries like France, Spain or Italy. You can often find information about how companies limit their food miles on their website. With organic, the choice is a lot simpler. Most major veggie box services exclusively source organic, and some, like The Organic Delivery Company and Nutritional Organic Food Co. even have it in their name.
If you really want to save yourself a trip to the supermarket, it can also be good to choose a service that offers more than fruit and veg. Some, like Pikt or Oddbox focus exclusively on fruit and veg. Some of the big brands, like Abel & Cole and Eversfield offer a wide assortment including household cleaning, cereals, crisps, etc. One can wonder about whether these companies aren’t transforming into online supermarkets, with all the caveats, but for now their focus on good business practices will likely mean that you are still supporting producers.
One personal consideration is whether companies deliver recipe kits. This is a bit antithetical to the idea of a veggie box, since you don’t have to learn to get creative with a range of vegetables, but it offers a clear level of convenience. Figuring out what to do with a large vegetable box is a lot of hassle, for me at least, and often still involves a trip to the supermarket, Asian store, etc. Here again, brands like Abel & Cole and Riverford will be helpful, since they offer a range of vegan and vegetarian recipe kits, that change every week. One major downside is that they often require single-use plastics for things like spices and sauces.
If you want a complete overview of what’s on offer, I can recommend checking out the following websites: The Soil Association, BBC Good Food, and The Independent.