Complaints, fruit & critical friends

Our challenge is to make just enough of the right compromises, take just the right risks, and bring you as much flavour as possible

Much as we seek to avoid complaints, I often argue that we should celebrate any customer who cares enough about Riverford to want to be a ‘critical friend’ and help us do better. We monitor complaints carefully and congratulate ourselves if we keep them below 1.5 per thousand. However, concentrating too much on what is objectively measurable carries the danger of ignoring the subjective – which is often just as important, but is always harder to manage. A narrow focus on the quantifiable can also lead to excessive risk aversion. This is true of life, and of summer fruits – which travel better firm, but are bland when picked too early. 

The first Devon strawberries are being picked this week. Cherries are coming from Paco in Valle del Jerte (‘cherry valley’) in Cáceres, Spain, and apricots from Enric in Catalonia. Stone and soft fruits will be at their best for the next three months – and so we are entering our season of most complaints. These fruits are delicate and thin-skinned, with a fleetingly short season; they can move from sweet, succulent, perfumed delight to melting disappointment, from one delivery to the next. The best fruit will always be eaten in the field, from older, softer varieties, which are ripened on the tree and never see a cold store or a two-day journey by refrigerated truck. But as you cannot be there, our challenge is to make just enough of the right compromises, take just the right risks, and bring you as much of that flavour as possible – with a minimum of bruised, split, or overripe fruits. Working closely with our growers, we will do our best to get it right, delight you most of the time, and trust that you will let us know when we fall short.

The cautionary tale for us all should be the once-ubiquitous, but delicate, round peaches. Thirty years ago, these epitomised juicy deliciousness – but through the endeavours of breeders, agronomists, logisticians, and supermarkets, they became so disappointing that no one buys them, and the market died. We have replaced them with the once-rare flat (or ‘doughnut’) peaches, which have soft flesh and an excellent flavour. If we insist on taking no risks, we will all be the losers.

Berries do not ripen after harvest, so keep them in the fridge and eat as soon as possible. Stone fruit arrives slightly firm – it will ripen in the fridge. Fruit is always best eaten at room temperature, for maximum flavour and sweetness.

6 Comments

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  1. Good evening Mr Singh-Watson,
    I read with interest your notes that comes with all the boxes Friday early mornings. Farming is not just a topic, an issue or a political weapon, it is vital for human existence since we don’t go out in the wild foreging and around 85% of residents in England live in cities not the country side. My husband Paul grew up on a small arable farm and even now he listen to tweet of the day becasue they discuss farming. Fresh food nurture and support us and it is about time the farming comunity comes together and demand that all farming should be organic for the sake of the land and for our dignity and wellbeing. I am Italian, we sit on the foundation of family, food and faith. I subscribe to food and family and am increadibly sad that 99% of all food in supermarket is mutilated, plasticated and / or turned in ready meals and ultra process food. Come together as a community and in the forthcoming elections hopefully there will be more farmers not voting tory. What is needed for this lovely land is a brand new foundation of Green-Labour-Liberals coalition government so that the planet, people and democracy are the centre of the next parliament. We as customers will continue supporting you even though it can be expensive at times. Any chance of opening a little cantine to serve your fresh food in Kingston? When working in Strasbourgh I used to have my lunch at a little cantine for workers which served only seasonal food produced by a cooperative of French farmers. It was organic, macrobiotic, vegetarian and incredibly ethical, and not expensive. There I learn even more than I knew already about food. Don’t give up. This is the time to push forward. Warmly, Licia

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  2. Local market garden fruit businesses need a boost. Our ancestors had an extraordinary range of knowledge & their orchards and cool stores were one of the country’s best assets.
    I don’t know exactly what Riverford could do to assist, as you’ve been helping farm colleagues to get a guaranteed price, choose the best veg varieties for disease resistance and cultivation techniques that would support topsoil health.
    Perhaps you are doing some of this in a pioneering context already. Much has to be experimental because of climate catastrophe’s looming disaster, including the failure of staple crops, and possible ‘boom’ weather conditions for adverse insects and fungi.

    Before Beeching closed the branch line railways, masses of summer fruit would speed into Covent Garden in the very early mornings. How proud the growers were of this produce, how many villages were glad of the work and adaptable in their land use, and how important their skills were.

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  3. I often found myself wondering where are the big round peaches from my youth. I don’t remember at that time knowing about Nectarines. I want a round peach.
    Of course I realise things move on. I feel almost happy when I see fruit and veggies going off. Well at least they have not had things done to them to give an eternal shelf life like many brands of breakfast cereals.
    I try to eat organic when I can and also try not to complain. A little imperfection here and there. Who can tell exactly what a Custard Apple or Avocado is going to look like until it’s cut into? I look at myself and see more and more imperfections as days go by.

    This is life and nature, which I am part of and try to enjoy.

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  4. I am one of your “critical friends.” I agree with your philosophy 100%. But on the practical side, could you please improve your quality control? About every third time your baby spinach is slimed up and stinky, like it would be if I had bought Lidl’s or Sainsbury’s product and left it in the bottom of the fridge for two weeks. Each time that happens I send a pic of a plate of the slimy leaves to your customer service. So much goes to waste! What are you doing wrong? Improve, and there will be less food waste. You need to improve your handling, storage and quality control. Riverford is not a charity. I will not spend money on much inferior product just because because I agree with your philosophy.

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  5. I very much admire and agree with Guy Singh-Watson on just about everything I have ever read by him or abut him. He’s a hero for the environment and on how to treat people right. It’s the main reason I buy from Riverford. However, I really must also agree with the comments below about the poor quality control on some of the vegetables, in particular the cherry tomatoes. More often than not they arrive in poor condition, like they’ve been around too long or have some kind of blight that’s affected their skin. I really do hate to complain, but I don’t think growing nice organic cherry tomatoes is that difficult, so there’s really no excuse. Sorry, Guy.

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