Gav's Monthly Roundup
We've heard from Gav to give us a round up of what's been going on this month in the world of fruit and veg.
We’re going old skool Oddbox with a longer letter. Thanks to my long, entangled roots that feel their way back to the early days, writing this has been a true blast of nostalgia. With the evolution of our tailored-to-your-box letters, I felt it was a great opportunity to give you all a good old fashioned monthly summary. So, what in earth has been going on?
Back to our roots
I guess those deep roots make me the equivalent of a lanky, crooked parsnip with a few bruises to boot. Suits me just fine; parsnips are a seasonal joy and availability for them is still strong. Sadly, the same can’t be said for all UK produce. As the best mates of old Jack Frost, we’ve seen that warm spell in mid-March seal the fate of our Brussels sprouts and kale for at least another year.
This is the start of a period called the Hungry Gap: when the overwintered British crops come to an end and the long wait for the bounty of produce summer brings begins. You can scrap those doom and gloom thoughts right now, though. It’s more bloom and boom out there. Sort of.
We’ve got asparagus inching slowly skywards, poised for the next warm week to break free of their underground safehouses. The first outdoor-grown rhubarb has already replaced its neon pink ‘forced’ cousins. We’ve also seen the exciting emergence of purple sprouting broccoli from one of our non-traditional PSB growers - it’s prime time for these British beauties and we are certainly not complaining about a surprise surplus.
Let’s not forget about those first British aubergines, either. Although we’ve only had small quantities so far, these will really start to become available in all sorts of shapes and sizes towards the end of April. The same goes for home-grown peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes, too.
And, like the parsnips, there’s still lots of leeks going spare thanks to the extra chunky ones struggling to find acceptance on supermarket shelves. These big boys are powering on, ignoring the seasonal expectations set upon them and delivering delicious additions to our boxes as we enter a new month. Will we keep taking them as long as the quality is good enough? Alli-um, yeah, obviously.
We’re as much about the odd as we are the surplus. While we’re often banging on about the ‘too big’ and ‘too small’, there’s a whole load of ‘not quite the right colour’ (which has a slightly less marketable ring to it). We’ve seen lush red apples make their blush-less brothers and sisters from the same tree go green with envy. Luckily, we’ve found a home for them in your fruit bowls without fuss over the past few months.
More recently, the British weather teased both plants and humans with the early signs of spring only to plunge us back into the reality of winter’s icy grip. It’s caused a magnificent purple tinge to be inked onto the leaves of our growers’ spring greens. Meanwhile, in Italy, some mooli radishes grew so quickly that they poked right out of the ground and were painted green by the sun. Neither of these ‘discolourations’ are accepted by supermarkets.
It’s not just nature that causes trouble for our growers, though. Some overzealous pickers in Spain plucked some pretty green peppers from their plants, only to be told they weren’t green enough. Some displayed a patch of red, yellow or orange - but British supermarkets prefer one or the other. Capsicum on, surely that’s not a big deal? It certainly isn’t for us.
A broken supply chain
There’s always a new story that captivates me each week. And lately, it sure has been tough going for a lot of us in the fresh produce industry.
We’ve seen port delays hit South African departures and UK arrivals, hampering our efforts to avoid making changes to your box contents. Our sourcing, logistics and production planning teams have been working incredibly hard to avoid as little disruption as possible. Sometimes, though, when life gives us lemons we just have to put limes in your box instead.
While the South African delays have been a near-constant for the past few months, our Spanish growers had a particularly torrid time in March. First came truckers' strikes against rising fuel prices which prevented lots of fresh produce from leaving the country.
This coincided with the end of the winter campaign in Almeria when the volume of fruit and vegetables traded was particularly high. A Saharan sandstorm also made its way to southern Spain and covered many outdoor crops. And, just when they thought they were out of the woods, unusually heavy rainfall further disrupted efforts to harvest crops in certain regions.
March may have been a particularly difficult month, but it was not unusual. Growers constantly battle against ever-changing weather and general supply chain challenges have been rumbling on for some time now. Getting a product to market is becoming increasingly more expensive too, with soaring energy prices leaving some growers deliberating over whether to delay greenhouse planting or turn their apple cold stores off early and cut their losses.
Furthermore, fuel prices have rocketed and the government recently announced a new hourly rate for seasonal horticultural workers that is 6.5% above the National Living Wage. Growers only see a return when their produce hits the market though, meaning rising costs associated with each stage of a product’s lifecycle - from seed planting to harvest - need to be factored in.
The bottom line? Food waste has never been so costly - for our growers or for our planet. Working with growers on a daily basis to solve their fresh produce challenges is what we do at Oddbox. It just might come at the cost of a surprise swap or two in your boxes.
Yours in fruit & veg,
Gav, Head of Operations