When the lockdown shockwave ran through Britain’s food supply chains, fruit growers were among the worst affected.
With Wimbledon and weddings cancelled, strawberries, raspberries and mountains of other seasonal fruit were at risk of being thrown away.
But the pandemic provided an unexpected silver lining for enterprising distillers who diverted the surplus into a slew of new spirits that are helping to cut down on food waste.
“This is a growing trend,” says James Oag-Cooper, managing director of Hyke Gin, which is made from discarded supermarket “table” grapes grown to be eaten fresh.
“The space has changed dramatically in the last five years as consumers’ appetite for more sustainable ingredients, even pre-lockdown, has soared,” he said.
The newest kid on the block is from Sorted Food – the social media movement dedicated to cooking – which has partnered with North Yorkshire’s Sloemotion Distillery to launch a strawberry gin liqueur that goes on sale in May.
The tipple uses the excess strawberry crop grown in Yorkshire. Hyke Gin is also using orange skins left over from supermarket fruit salads in its orange gin, while discarded cherries, spent coffee grounds and coconut all go into its Mad City Botanical Rum along with molasses; a natural byproduct made from processing sugar cane.
Beer drinkers also have a growing range of options with which to slake their thirst. Toast Ale, brewer of the first UK-produced beer made from leftover bread, has linked up with fruit and veg box scheme Oddbox and drinks company Flawsome to produce a Mango IPA made from “wonky” mangoes, while a low-alcohol Raspberry Sour uses berries sourced from condiment maker and food waste warriors Rubies in the Rubble.
Last year the Sipsmith brand stepped in to help reduce the fruit glut by producing a limited edition strawberry gin – a London Dry gin distilled with the 2020 strawberry harvest from Kent-based Hugh Lowe Farms, exclusive berry grower for the Wimbledon fortnight.
Nick Marston, chair of British Summer Fruits, said: “I’m sure it was helpful to the individual grower and shows a nice alternative use for berries. There’s always some fruit waste and the spirit producers used a limited tonnage – around 80,000 tonnes of UK strawberries.”
When the first lockdown began in March 2020, food producers and wholesalers struggled to deal with tens of thousands of tonnes of perishable fruit and vegetables no longer required by restaurants, hotels and schools.
The UK strawberry crop was particularly badly hit because of the cancellation of the Wimbledon tennis tournament, weddings and all other large outdoor events and gatherings. Each year more than 38.4 tonnes of strawberries (1.92 million strawberries) and 445kg of raspberries are picked and consumed at Wimbledon; the equivalent of more than 140,000 punnets.
The food redistribution charity FareShare reports that in 2020-21 it received 3,679 tonnes of surplus fresh fruit – eight times as much as the 454.4 tonnes the year before.