Fresh fruit and veg from Hampshire-based Boxxfresh

Kelly and Jon Barfoot

Kelly and Jon Barfoot - Credit: Archant

Mumpreneur Kelly Barfoot thinks inside the box when it comes to fresh fruit and veg. She tells Emma Caulton about her mission to spread the word about quality produce, with help from husband and business partner Jon

Well-hidden down a satnav-unfriendly track, alongside a path that leads to a windswept stretch of coast, is Boxxfresh HQ. It’s not your usual head office: a converted tack room furnished with chaise longue in the corner, big oak table as desk and one wall given over to a whiteboard listing this week’s seasonal produce. But then Boxxfresh is not your usual business. We’re in market garden Hampshire (once the centre of England’s strawberry industry); the spot-on location for a business ‘repackaging’ fresh local produce for today’s busy families.

Boxxfresh is the brainchild of Kelly and Jon Barfoot: the product of a marriage of talents made in healthy foodie heaven between Kelly, personal fitness trainer, and Jon, from generations of local arable farmers.

Jon says: “My great grandfather and grandfather were market gardeners so it’s hardwired into me, and my dad’s earliest memory is being on a horse and cart filled with strawberries at Swanwick Station.”

Kelly had always been into health and wellbeing, however having a family (Zavier, 14, Giselle, 12, and Ava, eight) shifted that focus: “When you have a family, you look at things differently; for me it became all about food.”

She attributes Jon with changing the way she cooked. Much of the family’s diet is based around vegetables and fruits. They’re not vegetarian, although they tend to have at least a couple of meat-free meals each week. The family follow what Kelly refers to as a flexitarian diet. Nothing is banned - except for fizzy drinks.

When Kelly tells me she’s 41, I fail to stop my eyebrows arching high in surprise. I’m not alone in thinking, ‘whatever she’s on, I’ll have some’. Others have asked her how she stays so fit (and young-looking and full of bounce). Her answer - it’s not just about exercise, it’s also about what you eat.

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“I don’t want to come over as preaching, but people eat too much of the wrong stuff, we’re overfed and undernourished. If you want to function well, you need to eat well. Everyone wants a quick fix, but it’s about lifestyle habits.”

When others expressed interest about what she bought, from where, and how she cooked, Kelly put together 20 boxes of fruit and veg, asked for feedback, and Boxxfresh was born. Jon encouraged her: “Just go for it!”

And she did. Boxxfresh started at the kitchen table in Kelly and Jon’s pretty weatherboarded farmhouse (next door to the converted tack room) and was officially launched at the beginning of last summer.

Kelly recalls: “There were five customers with the first shipment. I started packing up boxes in the house and as the business grew, we moved into the packing barn. I love packing these boxes every week. We get such lovely feedback. It’s turned into a lifestyle business.”

It has come at a time when we’re being advised to eat more fruit and veg (the daily recommendation has doubled to 10 portions), yet consumption has actually dropped. Perhaps, like me, people are disappointed in produce grown out of season or flown half-way round the world that lacks freshness and flavour.

Boxxfresh is what it says in the name: boxes of produce delivered fresh from the farm direct to the doorstep - a practical and cost-effective solution to those looking for an alternative to the supermarket for fresh produce. It is also an evolution of the veg box scheme, more bespoke with more choice. And at a time when many of us are accustomed to food shopping online and fitting supermarket deliveries into our busy schedules, Boxxfresh reflects these changing shopping habits, combining the ease of online shopping with what Kelly calls ‘conscious shopping’ – which basically means caring about provenance and sustainability.

Kelly continues: “In many ways it’s going back to how we used to shop, only it’s online and delivered. We just want it to be convenient.”

The concept is simple. Customers select from a list of fresh produce, depending on what’s in season, creating their own bespoke box. There’s no subscription fee and no commitment to order regularly.

“Everyone eats differently so it’s not prescriptive. A family can order a small box for £15 one week and an extra-large box priced £30 the week after. A single person can order a small box every couple of weeks. And as the produce is so fresh, it lasts longer.

“When we send people a £15 box they can’t believe it, as it’s such great value and tastes fantastic.”

Jon adds: “We taste everything before we buy it. If it’s not spot on, we take it off the list. We’re trying to establish a model based on seasonality; we want people to discover how much better things taste in season.

“The focus is local, but it’s not all about local as we can’t have local all the time because it’s not there all the time.”

They’ve also accommodated our changing expectations by adding 21st century staples, once considered ‘exotics’, onto the lists, such as avocados, chilli, garlic, lemons and limes…

Kelly again: “We understand our customers and what they require. People want to be excited and inspired and get the things they like. Boxxfresh boxes are an experience; we have moved away from the old model of veg box schemes where there’s no choice.”

Neither are Boxxfresh recipients left in limbo, wondering ‘how do I put it into practice’, as Kelly also provides inspirational recipes that can be super simple, yet impressive (such as one pot sweet potato and spinach hash with baked eggs - currently on the website).

“Seasonal, local, fresh are our raisons d’être, but price is important. People assume it’s too expensive for them. But we combine desirability and quality with cost.”

They price against the supermarkets, keeping costs low with a simplified service delivering (throughout most of Hampshire and just over the Sussex and Surrey borders) on Thursday and Friday in time for the weekend – as that’s when most people want their fruit and veg delivered. Orders are placed at the beginning of the week. This means Kelly and Jon know exactly what to order from their suppliers. It comes in and it goes out, received, packed and delivered in 24 hours.

It’s a clever business model with produce selected online, then picked, packed and delivered to the customer so there’s no stock held, no waste and it’s as fresh as possible. It’s a model dependent on a good supply chain and strong relationships with producers. So, for example, Isle of Wight tomatoes picked today, will arrive tomorrow with Boxxfresh for delivery the day after. It’s the same with potatoes and (depending on the time of year) cabbages, cauliflower and leeks etc.

Kelly eulogises: “Leeks are grown in the field right next door to us; they’re the best leeks ever and smell wonderful.”

Produce is even brought off the fields with the morning dew still on it.

This clever concept could catch on. But Kelly and Jon are keen to keep it contained: “I’m clear in my head where I want the business to go. And we don’t want it to develop into a massive behemoth.”

Kelly adds: “It’s about making eating well easy. There’s no demographic for the business, and it’s broken any preconceptions one may have. I want it to be for anyone. Don’t put people in boxes.”

Just fruit and veg.

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