Burnt Snow, my first novel, was released in 2010 by Pan MacMillan Australia. White Rain, the sequel, is due soon. As part of a trilogy about witches, earth magic, curses, love and revenge, this blog archives my research into the world of the witches - as well as my own magical saga as a new author.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Great Organic Veg Delivery Comparison Shop Adventure!

Hello, blog-fans!

Apologies for my absence - I've been working on my book (!) - a subject, I promise, will be milked to death in my next post.

Today, I'm adding to the blog a series of weekly reviews of my adventures in organic vegetable home delivery. It will contain a bonus recipe that demands the inclusion of this intriguing broccoli:

The Romanesco Broccoli

The Boy Next Door and I are fabulously stereotypical tree-hugging environment lovers... who live very deliberately *right in the centre* of one of the busiest cities on earth. Obviously, I love organic veg for all the environmental and ethical concerns of its production, but it's an unavoidable truth that it also tastes better. If you don't believe me, hold up an organic tomato to your nose and try not to salivate.

The other day I was rambling around London when I noticed a box of juicy vegetables sitting in an ethical-looking cardboard box outside someone's house. This is deranged behaviour in London, given that the easiest way of getting rid of things you don't want is to leave them outside your house, where they'll be stolen in less than five minutes (I time-trialled this with an old bookcase, it is true), but rather than lurk in the shadows to watch out for London's soon-to-be-healthiest local thief, I came home and decided to find my own organic veg supplier.

I found five:
• Riverford Organic Veg: www.riverford.co.uk
• Abel & Cole: www.abelandcole.co.uk
• The Organic Delivery Company: www.organicdeliverycompany.co.uk
• The Food Folk: www.thefoodfolk.com
• Farm-Direct: www.farm-direct.com

The Boy Next Door, who would, left to his own devices, exist entirely on a diet of fruity buns, has, as the result of a recent snotty flu, enfranchised me to set the nutritional agenda for our household. With a mutually agreed combined grocery budget of £40 a week, I set to work on my first order, from Riverford Organic.

The Boy Next Door works weird shifts, and I spend a lot of nights out, too, so for my first veg order, I thought I would err on the side of caution with quantities. The way Riverford work is that they offer you a box, with a choice of size, and base their contents of a number of items of fruit or veg to fill it. What these are, of course, are determined by seasonal availabilities. There are also dairy and meat options, booze, softdrinks and seasonal treats that you can order, as well as things for the larder.

I ordered:
- a "mini" box: This is advertised as containing 7-8 types of vegetable, being a week's supply for 1-2 people, and cost £8.95. It contained: 8 large potatoes, 5 medium carrots, 2 enormous zucchini/courgettes, 3 medium-sized leeks, 4 medium brown onions, 1 medium savoy cabbage and 1 medium head of romanesco broccoli.
- a "fruit bag": This is advertised as containing 3 types of seasonal vegetable, and cost £5.95. It contained: 4 enormous plums, 4 huge oranges and 8 small kiwi-fruit.
- a litre of semi-skinned organic milk (£1.06)
- a half-dozen free range, organic eggs (£1.95)
- a 170g wheel of St Eadburgha soft cheese (a treat for the Boy the Next door, £4.45)
- a 600ml tub of the "Soup of the Month" - tarragon and celeriac - for £2.99

The total for this spread was £25.35. I worked our larder up to £40 through the purchase of boxes of black beans, kidney beans and chickpeas, lots of dry spaghetti, bacon, wild rice, wholemeal pitta bread, hummus, apples, soft cheese, oatcakes, butter and fruit juice and decided to trade off our larder for anything else.

I emailed in my order to Riverford (the website is a little annoying, as you can't revise your choices at checkout - you have to reverse to the main page and manually adjust the quantities), but was DELIGHTED to learn:
- they delivered for *free*
- they would deliver before 9am on a Tuesday.

Now, the first point of comparison in this shop was to challenge whether a free, organic delivery would be cheaper than ordering the same things from the local supermarket. So I comparison-shopped with Sainsbury's online; we do all our regular shopping from the local Sainbury's, which has an organic section.

Withdrawing the cost of the cheese - which you can't get at Sainsbury's, and which, was, after all, a really a naughty treat - the cost of these items was £20.90.

Using the order mechanism for Sainsbury's Online, the same (or equivalent) items as my Riverford stock were:

Sainsbury's Carrot, Chickpea & Coriander Soup, So Organic 600g £0.28/100g £1.69
Sainsbury's Fresh Milk, Semi Skimmed, Organic 1.13L (2pint) £0.91/ltr £1.03
Sainsbury's Free Range Woodland Medium Eggs x6 £0.24/ea £1.46
Sainsbury's Plum Punnet 400g £4.98/kg £1.99
Sainsbury's Navel Oranges , Taste the Difference x4 £0.62/ea £2.49
Sainsbury's Kiwi Fruit, Organic x4 £0.35/ea £1.39
Sainsbury's Onions, Organic 750g £1.33/kg £1.00
Sainsbury's Leeks, Organic 400g £4.45/kg £1.78
Sainsbury's Lady Balfour Potatoes, So Organic 2kg £1.25/kg £2.50
Sainsbury's Courgettes, So Organic £0.66/ea £1.98
Sainsbury's Carrots, So Organic 750g £1.24/kg £0.93
Sainsbury's Broccoli, So Organic 400g £3.92/kg £1.57
Sainsbury's Savoy Cabbage, Organic £1.27/ea £1.27

Which totals to: £21.08 - although quantities are not equivalent (I got more kiwi fruit and leeks, but perhaps less spuds and carrots). Also, I couldn't get organic plums or oranges from Sainsbury's at this time.

Interesting. ALSO: were I to order through Sainsbury's for home delivery I couldn't get a delivery before 9am. Deliveries only start from 10am, and would cost me an additional £3.50.

That's only an 18p difference between Riverford and Sainsbury's on the groceries, but the difference in cost with delivery means a saving of £3.68, or 17% on the total shop.

Of course, there's an argument that I had to go to Sainsbury's anyway to get our other groceries, so there's a carbon issue with the delivery from Riverford. Of course, buying that many groceries would have needed the help of a car or bus to get home, anyway... Not to mention, there's an ENORMOUS save in time between ordering on the internet and hanging at home for an early-morning delivery, rather than the hours spent going to, staying at, and coming from the supermarket (not to mention that the Boy Next Door is not supermarket compliant, and tends to start wanting to buy £10 of jellybeans or stick bananas in his ears if we're in there for more than 5 minutes).

The real issue, for me, of course, was going to be the quality and taste of the food. I'm writing this on a Sunday, following our Tuesday delivery. Of our stock, we have 1 courgette, 3 onions, some eggs, the plums, 3 oranges and all of the kiwi fruit remaining, but we've had some lovely meals:

- leeks and cabbage fried with butter and bacon
- roast potatoes and carrots
- the Soup of the Month was fantastic
- the cheese lasted, oh, about 30 minutes (and that was the last of our oatcakes)
- spaghetti with broccoli and pinenuts
- fresh orange and bay leaf tea
- courgette with wild rice
- kidney beans with bacon and onion

... and tomorrow, obviously, I am going to whip up an omelette with the eggs, an onion, bacon and the remaining courgette, using the last two onions in a french onion soup for dinner.

Of course, it's alarming that the Boy Next Door and I have essentially been staring at a fruitbowl full of food that we haven't touched for a week. The plums I will make into a cordial tomorrow, the oranges will last a couple more days and I may juice them... but kiwi fruit are annoying little critters and any ideas what to do with them would be most welcome.

So, in summary, Riverford:

- good range of in season fresh fruit and vegetables
- also very decent range of meat, dairy and booze
- some interesting luxury products
- flexibility with ordering (instead of the fruit bag, we could have just selected apples and bananas to add on)
- website is clear, even if ordering is a little annoying
- free delivery, and at good hours for people with, you know, jobs
- they delivered on time and were very nice
- delivery came with recyclable packaging, as well as (bonus!) a handy guidebook to their vegetables (which is how i found out what the weird green thing was) with storage and preparation instructions, as well as recipes. Recipes!
- organic, responsibly sourced
- high quality food (one potato was a little dodgy, but a few flicks of the knife and it roasted fine)
- had to scrub the carrots and potatoes
- got freaked out by the weird-looking broccoli (pyramidical cones and bright lime green in colour)... but it turned out to be crunchy and scrumptious
- tasty food that lasted the promised week
- price comparable (slighly less) than Sainsbury's

The week ahead we are going to try Abel & Cole and see how they compare.

In other news, today I bought a peace lily... and already my apartment is more joyous.

To leave you...

• 10-Minute Spaghetti with Broccoli and Pinenuts: Heat 2 tbs of olive oil in a pan, adding your own desired quantity of pinenuts. Cook the pinenuts in the oil on a low heat until they are VERY slightly more golden than beige, but remove from heat immediately when they start to turn this colour. Do NOT drain, but set aside. Boil water in a kettle and pour it into a saucepan, adding (preferably wholemeal) spaghetti. Once the spaghetti is is bent into the saucepan, add a slice of bacon to the water, a dash of salt and cover the pan with a bamboo steamer that fits it. The steamer should contain half a head of romanesco broccoli, cut into flowerets. Bring to the boil - once the broccoli is cooked, the spaghetti should be, too. Drain the spaghetti, add the broccoli to the pan, and pour in the oil and pinenuts, seasoning with ground black pepper and salt, to taste. Can be served with shredded pecorino or parmesan cheese.


Anonymous said...

Not quiet an organic delivery company but try graze.com. They deliver healthy snacks and our great for when you're stuck at your desk working. Type in this code for as cheapo box - 9X7571T

Love Tabs x

Anonymous said...

Oh and I LOVE kiwis. I'll have them. Or make a fruit salad for breakfast with some honey drizzled on top. YUM