Knowledge for better food systems

Abel & Cole

Where are you based?

Our main offices are in Wimbledon, but we have depots in Andover, Ongar, Tamworth and Warrington.

What kind of organisation are you (eg. academic, business, NGO etc)?

Business (Internet retail)

What is your broad area of expertise?

We deliver ethically sourced, seasonal, organic food to people's homes - making sure that we do everything we can to minimise our impact on the environment.

Give a range of the projects you are you currently working on.

We are always working hard to find the best in organic produce for our customers whilst working with and supporting small farms and artisan makers. Last year we started trialling the use of recycled vegetable oil in our vans and we are working towards fuelling all our fleet on recycled vegetable oil, a new development in this project involves Laverstoke Park, a local farm. Laverstoke supply us with meat, we supply them with compost (from left over fruit and vegetables that are not of good enough quality for our customers) and this compost is used on Laverstoke's rape seed crops which will then produce fuel for our vans. We are also half way through a project to make all of our packaging suitable for home composting.

What aspect of your work with relevance to the food-climate change issue would you like to feature?  

Abel & Cole has always provided seasonal boxes of ethically sourced, organic food. The company was founded in 1988 and we have always had a 'no air-freight' policy. By supplying organic food we are supporting sustainable agriculture, biodiversity and livelihoods. We have always used as little packaging as possible, re-using as much as possible and then recycling as much as possible. We are now working towards making any packaging we do use, suitable for home composting.

Please describe the work in more detail - how it started, what stage it is at, who has/have been involved and their different roles.

The company was started by Keith Abel in 1988, selling potatoes door-to-door in South London. Now there are nearly 300 employees and we deliver to many parts of the UK, all the while maintaining the companies principle of having as little impact on the environment as possible. Keith teamed his entrepreneurial skills with a dedication for the environment and paying farmers a good price. Ella Heeks our director, joined the company after graduating from University and has recently won a WEBA (Women in Ethical Business Award) along with being recognised as a spokeswoman for forward thinking ethical and environmental business.

What do you see as the big questions for the food climate research community at the moment?

  • What is the community's vision of a sustainable food industry, and how will their work contribute to achieving this?
  • How does the food climate research community collaborate with organisations researching other areas of sustainability, and how is this helping to achieve the vision?
  • How can we use carbon emissions trading to help internalise externalities?
  • Can carbon emissions trading be extended to smaller companies?
  • Are we letting the issue of climate change cloud our view of the bigger picture of sustainability and a clear vision of where we need to be going?
  • Is carbon labelling misleading because it only explains one aspect of many, when consumers will make the 'right' environmental choice base on this?
  • Is too much attention given towards climate change in the media, at the expense of other issues?-if so, what can the community do to change this?

What are the big questions you feel you are seeking to answer at the moment?

We have always asked and re-asked the question, 'What does a sustainable food industry look like?' We have attempted to answer this by creating a paragon of a sustainable food business. We believe that we have made significant progress towards achieving that, by addressing questions relating to all sustainability issues, such as how to minimise GHG emissions that contribute to climate change, how to create communities by forging links between our producers and customers, understanding the links between environmental and human health, and so on. We feel we have been successful in creating a sustainable food business and very much hope to continue this into the future. However, for the whole industry to be sustainable, we believe that realistic pricing is necessary. All externalities need to be internalised, so that environmental and social costs are reflected in the price of food.

Contact details

Abel & Cole Limited 16 Waterside Way, Plough Lane
Wimbledon, SW17 0HB Email: Abel & Cole Tel: 08452 62 62 62