Know your onions

Click for a larger image. New Zealand onions were on sale in my local supermarket at the same price as UK onions. How?

Friends, while shopping in my local supermarket, I noticed that there were two crates of onions next to each other.

Both offered onions for sale at a very reasonable 85p per kg.

I have been trying recently to preferentially buy produce from the UK, and so I looked at the labels to see if the onions were from England or Spain.

I was pleased to see that one crate of onions was indeed from the UK.

But I was shocked to see that the other crate of onions was not from Spain, but from New Zealand!


Click for a larger image. New Zealand is literally on the other side of the Earth from the UK. It is a very long way for onions to travel.

Friends. I am not a xenophobe.

And I welcome the import of New Zealand produce to the UK. It makes perfect sense for us to import kiwi fruits for example, or wine. I can even understand a seasonable argument for apples.

But importing onions from New Zealand makes no sense to me.

I am, literally, lost for words


5 Responses to “Know your onions”

  1. B Says:

    I recently attended a webinar on food sustainability and a similar issue arose – it was explained to me that although food miles are an important measure, they aren’t the only ecological consideration.

    It might be that the UK onions are 85p while they are in season here but they aren’t grown in sufficient quantities and quickly rise in price, or become completely unavailable, outside that window. While the NZ onions have travelled frozen by boatload from a glut that would otherwise be wasted there.

    You might also need to factor in covid or Brexit, have closer European sources of onions been hard to get, or a lack of migrant workers here limited the crop sizes? Has NZ’s covid isolation meant they had a bumper crop of onions to dispose of cheaply. Would it be worse to waste all the energy and water invested into growing those onions than invest in the cost of transporting them?

    It kind of blew my mind.

    But as a general rule – soft fruits and veg from far-away places will have to be flown here – they don’t recover from freezing as well as harder fruit and veg and don’t last long enough to transport by boat which probably means their environmental cost is huge.

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:

      Thank you. I imagined that there might be other factors involved, because people don’t ship stuff around the world for fun.

      But is was just the sheer fact of it, in my local supermarket in Teddington, that left me shocked and speechless.

  2. mesnilman Says:

    *Checks source of onions in fridge, amongst other things*

    Local and sometimes very local. We try (like you) to buy as local as possible. On the day the IPCC report on climate change comes out, this underlines the geography element to trade.

    You know where I’m going with this…

    (I live somewhere South of Dover…)

  3. Ross Mason Says:

    Heh. I used to live in Pukekohe about 40 km south of Auckland. It is a major market garden area. There used to be research establishments that focused on garden veges etc. Onions were one of them. They developed the Pukekohe Longkeeper. A school holiday job was bagging these for a shipment going to Japan. Apparently at the time the biggest customer.
    But freezing onions to get them to you Michael?
    I don’t think onions survive freezing…..
    From the picture they look like longkeepers. They do last months sometimes especially in our onion drawer.
    They are nice onions by the way.
    Oh, and I dont recall seeing onion prices here low that indicate a glut. I am appalled at the suggestion we would throw such across the world to get rid of them.
    BTW. I note that France is not mentioned as a source for your onions. Given my penchant of laughing out loud whenever I watched ‘Ullo ‘Ullo and the strung up onions around the necks I would have thought France should have even your first country of origin thoughts.
    Ha! We beat the Filthy French again.
    PS. I am shocked to find Guiness in NZ. Brewed “back ‘ome”.

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:


      I always knew that you were a man who “knew his onions”, but I never realised your knowledge was extensive!

      Yes, it’s curious that historically we have seen Spanish onions sold in the UK rather than French. I think French onions perhaps are smaller – grown for flavour rather than size – and perhaps Spanish onions are larger?

      And I have nothing against fine upstanding English-speaking onions from New Zealand. It just seems a long way to come…

      Best wishes: M

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