In a move to better meet consumer needs, reduce waste and increase sustainability, The Watercress Company, the UK’s leading grower of watercress, has taken inspiration from the past by launching traditional handcrafted watercress bunches, wrapped in 100% biodegradable paper packaging.

Watercress was hugely popular in Victorian times when it was sold at provincial markets across the country in bunches tied at the base for people to eat on the move like an ice cream cone. This convenient and affordable format allowed city and factory workers alike to benefit from high-quality nutrition.  In more modern times this format did not suit retail specifications and watercress moved over to plastic bag packaging.  Now, with the global demand to reduce plastic use, The Watercress Company has re-introduced fresh watercress bunches, but this time they are wrapped in sustainable paper made in the Lake District and printed with natural, British ink. The paper is lightly coated in biodegradable plant wax to make it waterproof and the wrap is suitable for home-composting.

Tom Amery, Managing Director of The Watercress Company, explains: “We have been looking at various alternatives for plastic-free packaging for years, but nothing in the market currently met our criteria and so we decided to find the solution for ourselves.  Over the years we were regularly asked by individuals who remembered watercress sold in bunches, ‘why can’t you sell it like that anymore?’  We decided the inspiration for the future could be in the past!

“We’re delighted with the result and are confident that our new bunch format will appeal to consumers seeking an ethical solution to packaging that not only keeps the watercress fresh but underlines its provenance and the timeless farming methods used to produce it.”

The 150g bunches are far larger than the supermarket bags of 85g so there is plenty of watercress for consumers to create a range of dishes, or for batch cooking.  It is also possible to freeze the watercress in its wrap, compacted down, for later use in soup.

Generally, consumers are recommended to eat the watercress raw and as fresh as possible, for maximum nutrition* and should keep it wrapped in the fridge, standing in a glass of water.  The bunches can be stored upright in the door like a milk bottle, taking up less space in the fridge than air filled plastic bags.  The watercress is unwashed, so the leaves suffer less bruising and have a longer life. The watercress is also cut longer, providing more stalk, which is perfect for whizzing into smoothies, soups or pestos, while the leaves can be used in nutritious salads.

As well as responding to the demand for less, and more sustainable packaging the new bunches are filling a need for which COVID-19 has been a catalyst.  Currently, salad sales in the multiples are down by 25%.   The Watercress Company believes there are several factors for this:

  1. People are choosing to buy more tinned, frozen and brown goods that can be kept for longer without going off as they are shopping less often and tight on space in home fridges
  2. Many people are buying for others who will tend to only ask for essentials so as not to be a burden with normal long lists
  3. Shopping is not a pleasant experience right now, and we have been asked not to go as often as usual.  Salads tends to be something you would buy on each occasion and therefore fewer occasions means less salad bought

On the up-side, convenience stores, independents and corner shops are coming into their own with sales in these stores doubling, partly because it’s a slightly less stressful experience.   The Watercress Company expects the bunches to do well in the independent sector and is making boxes of 12 x 150g bunches widely available by calling 01929 401 400 or emailing [email protected].

Single bunches for individual consumption can be ordered online for delivery at www.thewasabicompany.co.uk/watercress-bunches with 20% of the cost being donated to Hospitality Action.  The bunches are also perfect for veg boxes, which are seeing exponential growth at the moment due to a surge in home-deliveries due to the current movement restrictions.

Tom Amery concludes: “We are confident that our new watercress bunches will prove really popular and online delivery and phone orders are helping us meet an immediate need as a result of coronavirus.  We expect the bunches to particularly appeal to the independent sector, which is where our initial focus lies.  However, in due course we will look to extend distribution of the traditional handcrafted bunches through regional and fresh produce markets, reflecting how watercress was sold in its Victorian heyday.  Watercress is one of the healthiest veg available and provides 100% of our RDA of Vitamin C, which is required for an effective immune system, something we all need, especially now.”

To find out more about the bunches and how to order, visit www.watercress.co.uk

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