Consumer Watch: Value in boxes of goodness

By Susan Edmunds

Fruit and vegetables delivered fresh to the door compete well with supermarket prices

A number of providers offer weekly or fortnightly delivery of fruit and vegetable boxes, often on a subscription-style basis. Photo / Adrian Malloch
A number of providers offer weekly or fortnightly delivery of fruit and vegetable boxes, often on a subscription-style basis. Photo / Adrian Malloch

Boxes of fruit, vegetables and even meat delivered to the door are becoming increasingly popular with time-poor Kiwi shoppers.

But whether they are good value for money depends on how well you use the ingredients.

A number of providers offer weekly or fortnightly delivery of fruit and vegetable boxes, often on a subscription-style basis. Delivery outside Auckland is limited but several companies have their eyes on expansion.

Most of the boxes designed to last a family for a week cost about $40-$55. We compared the prices to Countdown prices in the same week and found FoodBox's $45 option came in at $44.25 in the supermarket, without the spinach the box included but the supermarket was not stocking.

Ooooby's $53 box came in at $28.50 at the supermarket, although half of its ingredients that week were organic and the supermarket's were not.

Produce Delivered's $44.99 box came in at $42.36, but the supermarket was not selling the loose shallots included in the box.

Veg'd Out's $40 box, mainly available on the North Shore, came in more than $20 cheaper than the corresponding supermarket shop.

The supermarket also did not have the same varieties of apples as were included in some of the boxes.

Independent fruit and vegetable retailers are often cheaper than supermarket prices.

Jolanda Hibbert of Veg'd Out said there would not always be a price difference as big as $20. "It depends on our deals and supermarket specials." She said money was saved by knowing which producers to use and keeping overheads low.

Pete Russell, managing director of Ooooby, said his company worked to provide a direct link between local growers and customers. "We identified that small-scale family farms were finding it hard to reach the market. Supermarkets are very convenient and relatively cheap but they paid growers a lot less than these guys could afford."

He said consumers today cared about where their food came from. A 20-month study found that Ooooby's prices were about 2 per cent cheaper than the supermarkets' prices. Delivery is free. "It wasn't consistent. Sometimes they were cheaper and sometimes we were but overall we came out just under."

The business was built on a low-cost model, he said, only operating at limited times of the day to get the boxes packed and distributed. Ooooby has also opened a branch in Sydney.

Raewyn Fox, of the Federation of Family Budgeting Services, said boxes could provide good value because the contents were fresh fruit and vegetables.

But she said it was important that people did not pay for food they would not eat. "It's about using everything in the parcel. If there's something your kids won't eat, that's not good value."

Sophie Gray, food writer and budgeting expert, agreed it was a matter of using them well. "Vege co-ops and food boxes can be great value as you only get what is in season so it is really fresh and cheap because it's plentiful at the peak of the season. They can get a bit monotonous but can also be a great motivator for learning new ways of serving the same things and a good way of ensuring you always have fresh produce on hand because it's a standing order."

Foodbox.co.nz owner Peter Smith started the company six years ago with his wife, Jenny, and has branched out to Hamilton, Tauranga and Cambridge. It offers fruit and vegetable boxes and meat boxes. "We're trying to make buying fruit and vegetables and meat as easy as possible. People should be able to be confident that the stuff they are buying is good quality."

He said the cost of the boxes was benchmarked against supermarket prices so customers would know they were getting at least the same value as they would get from the supermarket. "We try to balance it so they have nice treat-type things as well as the staple stuff they need, things they can roast and stirfry."

Buying a box meant people got fruit and veg that was good quality, Smith said, because his team knew who to buy from and when. "We always buy apples from Yummy because we know you never get a floury apple. Customers may not always know that. That knowledge takes a long time to learn."

Other options provide more, including My Food Bag, fronted by MasterChef winner Nadia Lim, which offers recipe cards and the ingredients to make them. That service has more than 6,000 subscribers.

- Herald on Sunday

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