by Margaret Powling
How do the schemes work? Usually – although not always - with a subscription: a customer agrees to accept a regular delivery of fresh vegetables and/or fruit. Some suppliers also offer other items, such as fresh meat, fish, and dairy produce. Two such suppliers are Abel & Cole and Riverford Organic.
Abel & Cole, founded in 1988, has developed close, trusting relationships with farmers and producers, whilst helping customers enjoy and understand sustainable, seasonal eating. They deliver to most parts of England and parts of South Wales, and customers don’t need to be in - orders can be left somewhere out of sight, such as a porch or garden shed.
“Box schemes provide an interesting selection of seasonal organic fruit and vegetables. Customers can exclude things they don’t want, and we also offer all sorts of food, drink and household goods, and all the comfort of their kitchen. We minimise food waste and unnecessary packaging - we send out food in reusable, sustainable packaging, which we then collect and re-use - and promote biodiversity and animal welfare alongside fair trade and organic farming,” say Abel & Cole.
“We provide a close link with the farmers and suppliers. We are committed not only to high quality, organic food but also to the environment as a whole. We pride ourselves on paying a fair price to our suppliers and are committed to helping them - on more than one occasion we have provided loans to some smaller farms in order to help them improve their facilities and output. But most importantly, we really listen to, and communicate with, our customers. Not only that we will always try as hard as possible to make sure that every one of our customers’ needs and expectations are met. We have won multiple awards for our customer service.”
Riverford’s Organic box scheme began in the mid-1980s and now delivers around 40,000 boxes a week to homes around the UK from their regional farms.
“Unlike some competitors, Riverford is owned by farmers and we grow most of our fruit and vegetables ourselves, therefore the profits go straight back into farming and the British countryside. We select our fruit and vegetable varieties for flavour, not for how perfect they look or how well they survive industrial-scale harvesting, which are often the priorities in commercial farming,” say Riverford Organic.
“We are an ethical company, able to supply most of England and South Wales, and have won Best Online Retailer in the Observer Ethical Awards several times. We agree prices with our growers and farmers both here and overseas, providing them with a level of income security that is far from how most supermarkets operate. We have also won an RSPCA Good Business Award for the ethical way we source our meat, eggs and dairy produce. We also recycle, re-use and reduce waste wherever possible.
“Customers don’t need to ‘sign up’ for a regular delivery – they can dip in and out of ordering – and can choose to have weekly, fortnightly or even monthly deliveries, or pause their order. Our particular scheme is very flexible. Also, we offer a mini veg box for households of just one or two people.
“Overall we aim to make tasty, unadulterated and natural food as accessible as possible through our fair pricing and our free home delivery. Customers don’t have to be home and each delivery area is run as a local business, so you’ll get to know your local veg man or veg lady!”