Abel & Cole is committed to food sourced from organic farms. Ed Ayton from its Green Team explains
How did it all start?
It was 30 years ago (aah, the 80s!) that Keith Abel ditched law for veg and never looked back. He started with a bag of spuds, selling door to door. Before long, a chap called Bernard Gauvier, who we still work with today, offered him some organic potatoes. Organic spuds became spuds and eggs, and then spuds, eggs and vegetables, and so Abel & Cole’s organic veg box was born.
What are the biggest changes that have happened since then?
Going digital in the early 00s. We went from going door to door to selling online. It’s meant we can share our love of organic food more easily.
What are you most passionate about?
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention what started it all – a love of organic. It’s at the heart of everything we do. We’re about food as it should be, free from artificial fertilisers, herbicides and GM feeds – food that meets UK certified organic standards. Real commitment is needed to go organic, and you can taste the difference.
Tell us about the eco credentials you’re most proud of.
We have a lot to be proud of! For starters, the packaging innovations we’ve made. We avoid it altogether where possible, and invest a lot into reusing, recycling and reducing what we do use – we’ve calculated that our fruit and veg deliveries use 71% less plastic than the major supermarkets. Instead of polystyrene boxes we use wool to insulate the cold items in our deliveries, and we’ve also developed alternatives such as our compostable carrot bags. If any of our customers aren’t able to recycle or compost something we’ve sent, we’ll pick it up the next week and do it for them.
Celebrating seasonal food and prioritising UK farmers reduces our energy costs. Working closely with our suppliers to plan their harvests together, being flexible and seasonal with what goes into our boxes, and inspiring our customers with delicious leftover recipes, are some of our strategies for reducing food waste. In our pursuit of offering the most sustainable service we can, everything is considered: even our paper newsletters are FSC-certified, carbon-balanced and printed using vegetable ink.
How do you keep ahead of the competition?
By sticking to our values and always asking what we can do better. Through working directly with our growers, makers and bakers, we can continue to bring our customers new and exciting organic food. We can offer technical and financial assistance to support their innovation (like unheated polytunnel growing, to achieve what could be the first commercial, organic sweet potato crop in the UK), or help them through their organic certification process.
What’s next for the company?
Lettuce just look into our crystal ball... We continue to innovate, whether that’s developing our packaging, being part of the Clean Van Commitment (helping the UK put more electric vans our roads) or building on our work as a socially responsible B Corp. We’ve never been ones to rest on our laurels – it’s what’s kept us going since the 80s