Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Wonky fruit and veg supply catches on

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Produce not pretty enough for supermarkets finds a home with N Island consumers.
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Angus Simms and Katie Jackson are on a mission to find homes for New Zealand’s ugly and unloved fruit and vegetables.

Two years ago the couple established Wonky Box, a fruit and vegetable home delivery service out of Wellington, and initially ran it from a converted camper van.

The aim was to buy growers’ fruit and vegetables that didn’t meet export or supermarket standards, package it in boxes of mixed produce and sell it to consumers.

With tough economic times and rising fruit and vegetable prices, the concept has captured the public’s imagination.

“Consumers aren’t necessarily that fussed about the shape, the size or how ugly it is,” Simms said. 

“The standard consumers are expecting is a lot lower than supermarkets or the exporters in New Zealand have put in place. As long as it’s fresh it still has the same nutritional value and taste as a perfectly formed piece of fruit would.”

Interest has been such that Simms and Jackson recently moved to Auckland to oversee a second distribution centre alongside the Wellington base. The company delivers thousands of boxes each week throughout the North Island via NZ Post. What began as a two-person operation now employs 40 staff.

“We picked up pretty quickly that to ensure we are getting the freshest produce out the door to our customers we couldn’t just run from one distribution centre,” Simms said.

Since starting in 2021, Wonky Box has now rescued more than 100,000kg of produce, which would have otherwise gone to waste. It has also provided an extra revenue stream for  growers.

Wonky Box’s Angus Simms and Katie Jackson have recently moved to Auckland to oversee a second distribution centre alongside the Wellington base.

The couple met in the United Kingdom, while Simms was on his OE. Jackson is British and worked for the UK’s NHS as a psychiatric nurse.

The idea for the business began after the pair returned to Simms’ home town, Wellington, in 2021. They bought a camper van and hit the road, working in orchards to fund their travels.

While employed at a South Island orchard they experienced a severe hailstorm that ruined much of the fruit. 

“We were discussing how the growers lost so much produce overnight. Some of it was still in very good nick, but not up to the cosmetic standards for export, so they didn’t even bother asking us to pick it,” Simms said. 

From that conversation, it was back to Wellington for some research and eventually Wonky Box was born.

Jackson wasn’t surprised by the public interest in Wonky Box as it was soon apparent they were addressing a gap in the market.

“There was a such a lack of options with regards to delivery of fruit and veggie boxes that focused on the sustainability and food waste aspect, while also address the cost of living,” she said.

According to the Ministry for the Environment,  a third of all produced food is wasted each year globally and around 4% of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions are from food and organic waste.

Wonky Box’s fruit and vegetables were initially sourced from Horowhenua growers, although some took convincing to be involved.

Simms said the first six months involved a lot of “hustling” as they tried to get growers onside.

“It doesn’t matter how big or ugly the produce is, it costs the same to pull it from the ground as a perfect quality bit of produce. Figuring out the pricing and making it work for the growers was a learning curve.”

Word spread and the company now sources produce throughout New Zealand. The couple are keen to use even more growers.

“A lot more growers are coming to us now saying what they might have available each week. We would have two to three reach out to us on a weekly basis.

“What they have realised is that by working with a business like Wonky Box they can potentially  move a lot more product than they typically might.”

The content of the boxes varies weekly, depending on the seasonal availability of fruit and vegetables. Boxes traditionally include 10 varieties of produce – staples such as kūmara, potatoes, onions and carrots, greens and fruit.

“It’s important to put variety in the box for our consumers’ sake but we’re also trying to meet what is available from our growers,” said Simms.

As for long term plans for the business, Jackson said they would like to get more growers on board and eventually offer deliveries in the South Island.

“We want to be at the forefront of growers’ minds when they have got produce that they cannot move because of the criteria set out by the main markets,” Jackson said.

“We want  to support more growers across the country, be the lead in reducing food waste  and support Kiwi households to ensure they are eating healthily, eating well and at affordable prices.”

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