Our produce technical director Ian Harrison writes about the second anniversary of our Wonky Veg Boxes ...
It’s two years since we first hit the headlines with the introduction of our Wonky Veg Boxes – packed with great tasting but slightly misshapen vegetables – and the great response has encouraged us to add more wonky veg right across the produce aisle.
We started with carrots – and we’ve now sold 1,000 tonnes of carrots that would otherwise have been rejected as less than perfect.
When we first launched the Wonky Veg Boxes as a trial the response was incredible – and, to be honest, a bit of a surprise.
We didn’t know how customers would react as nothing like this had been tested in the UK before, so we began with just monthly store deliveries.
But then it went absolutely crazy and suddenly everybody was interested. We had the support of high-profile campaigners like Jamie Oliver and it was all over the press and social media.
Two years on, we now deliver 20 boxes to 300 of our larger stores every Thursday, helping an additional 300 tonnes of misshapen veg make it on to our shelves.
It’s made a big difference to our suppliers – they can now sell more of their produce to us rather than having to go out and find soup factories or ready meals to put their less-than-perfect crop into.
It also helps with seasonal produce as the joy of the wonky veg box is that we can change the contents based on availability, whether it’s carrots, onions, courgettes, leeks, swede, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, parsnip or whatever.
The response made us realise how much further we could go so we looked again at all our produce specifications to allow more skin defects, funny shapes and sizes to make it through. We previously allowed 10% of carrots with cosmetic defects on to our shelves as part of the Grower’s Selection range, but we increased this to 40% in May last year.
Customers' buying habits and expectations of what their veg should look like have definitely changed since the boxes launched. People are very tuned into taste and shelf life when they think about quality, but are much more relaxed about the visual appearance of their fresh produce.
I'm really proud that we’ve been able to make such a change in the produce industry and in convincing people that it's not just all about looks!