Retailers are making big claims when it comes to reducing plastic. We’ve seen reusable produce bags, unpacked stores and even reshaped Easter eggs in an effort to slash single-use plastic packaging. But when it comes to ordering online, customers who choose loose fruit & veg to do their bit for the planet are often landed with higher prices and just as much plastic as they’d have got with the packaged option. 

So who’s taking online plastic reduction just as seriously as in store? Who has the best range of loose fruit & veg? And which retailers charge more for loose produce than they do for packaged? We put them to the test to find out.

Prices are correct as of 4 February 2020.


Tesco Group


  Available loose online? (Y/N) Sold by quantity, weight or both? Price loose (£)  Price packaged (£) Difference Any plastic packaging on arrival? (Y/N)
CARROTS Y Both 0.58/kg 0.59/kg 2% Y
BAKING POTATOES Y Both 1/kg 1/kg 0% Out of stock 
BROWN ONIONS Y Both 0.75/kg 0.85/kg 13% Y
CLOSED CUP MUSHROOMS Y Both 2.75/kg 3.17/kg 15% Not stocked 
SALAD TOMATOES Y Both 1.93/kg 2.78/kg 44% Y
GALA APPLES Y Both 0.35/each 0.27/each -22% Y
ORANGES Y Quantity 0.30/each 0.30/each 0% Y
LEMONS Y Quantity 0.30/each 0.30/each 0% Y
BANANAS Y Both 0.15/each 0.20/each 33% Out of stock
CONFERENCE PEARS Y Both 2.07/kg 2.63/kg 27% Y

Availability: 8/10

Bag count: 12


On the Tesco website, a simple search of the word “loose” brings up a veritable farmers’ market of plastic-free fruit & veg. On top of all 10 of the products in our test, shoppers can pop sweet potatoes, parsnips and multiple varieties of apple, among other things, into the basket loose. 

After the hopeful online experience, shoppers would be forgiven for expecting a bushel of fresh produce unencumbered by plastic to turn up at the door. In reality, Tesco sent the order with enough plastic bags to choke a beluga.

Lemons Tesco


The 1kg order of carrots was split across two bags. We tried to chalk this up to a weight limit but we also ordered 1kg of onions which came in one bag, so the jury is still out. Next, we have an inexplicable treatment of lemons. We ordered five, they were split across three bags.

This pushed Tesco’s bag count up to 12 despite the supermarket only delivering eight of the 10 products included in the test. To top it off, all the bags were tied in tight knots, making them tricky to reuse at home. According to Tesco, you can hand these bags back to your delivery driver for recycling, but having to undo all 12 knots in front of them would probably be quite stressful. Other than that, you’d have to leave the comfort of your online ordering schedule and drop them off at a store. 

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Tesco, rather misleadingly, tells customers it has removed all plastic and paper bags from its online orders when they check out. Although our shop didn’t come in any carrier bags, it was clearly full of small loose produce bags, which are still plastic bags. Shoppers are already making a fuss about this on Twitter. The retailer has promised it will be getting rid of plastic produce bags, but it will be happening slowly over the next 12 months. 

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On the whole, it’s likely shoppers will save money if they opt for the loose option with this shopping list. Gala apples are the only product that bucks the trend, coming in at 8p more expensive per loose apple.



Asda Group


  Available loose online? (Y/N) Sold by quantity, weight or both? Price loose (£)  Price packaged (£) Difference Any plastic packaging on arrival? (Y/N)
CARROTS Y Both 0.5/kg 0.50/kg 0% Y
BAKING POTATOES Y Both 0.15/each 0.19/each 26% Y
BROWN ONIONS Y Both 0.6/kg 0.60/kg 0% Y
GALA APPLES Y Both 0.24/each 0.16/each -33% Y
ORANGES Y Quantity 0.30/each 0.25/each -16% N
LEMONS Y Quantity 0.25/each 0.17/each -32 Y
BANANAS Y Both 0.15/each 0.18/each 20% Out of stock
CONFERENCE PEARS Y Both 0.45/each 0.25/each -44% Y

Varieties delivered: 9/10

Bag count: 9


Searching “loose” on the Asda website also works a treat and presents around 25 plastic-free fruit & veg lines including exotic lines like chayote, mooli and calabash. 

Similarly to Tesco, thanks to a “we are now plastic carrier bag-free” message on checkout, we had high hopes this shop would arrive loose. Unfortunately Asda also let itself down on delivery with some confused packing. 

Bizarrely, we recieved five oranges inside a produce bag and one loose with a sticker on. The pepper we ordered also had a sticker on, but was then confusingly put inside a bag by itself. Loose bananas were out of stock and the retailer substituted them with the packaged option.

Asda pepper and orange

A mystery

Like Tesco, Asda’s online loose produce procedures have earned it a regular stream of awkward questions from customers on Twitter.

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When ordering vegetables loose from Asda, customers will either break even or pay less than the packaged option. However, the same rule doesn’t apply to fruit. We found the loose option would cost shoppers more on four out of the five products we tested. The steepest jump being conference pears, which are almost double the price per loose pear. 



Sainsburys group

  Available loose online? (Y/N) Sold by quantity, weight or both? Price loose (£)  Price packaged (£) Difference Any plastic packaging on arrival? (Y/N)
CARROTS Y Both 0.50/kg 0.60/kg 20% Y
BAKING POTATOES Y Both 0.32/each 0.18/kg -43% N
BROWN ONIONS Y Both 0.80/kg 0.85/kg 6% Y
CLOSED CUP MUSHROOMS Y Both 2.75/kg 3.17/kg 15% Y
GALA APPLES Y Quantity 0.27/each 0.22/each -18% Y
ORANGES Y Quantity 0.28/each 0.28/each 0% N
LEMONS Y Quantity 0.28/each 0.28/each 0% Y
BANANAS Y Both 0.32/each 0.20/each -37% N
CONFERENCE PEARS Y Quantity 0.38/each 0.31/each -18% Y

Varieties delivered: 9/10

Bag count: 5


The “loose” search trick also works on the Sainsbury’s website – it has around 25 plastic-free produce options available to buy online. The lineup includes the usual suspects like onions and potatoes alongside some posher options like fennel and queen squash.

Sainsbury’s packing technique can be declared as the bravest of the bunch as it was the only retailer to put in some of order entirely loose. The retailer went commando on the oranges, potatoes and bananas. It also got a bit experimental with the pears, combining them in one bag with the lemons. The apples were bagged alone, a missed opportunity for some Cockney rhyming slang. 

Sainsbury’s packing initiative and its use of the one-bag combo won it the lowest bag-to-product ratio of the supermarkets on trial. However, it’s worth noting that the onions were packed in a single-use carrier bag. 

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Last summer, Sainsbury’s boasted it was the first UK supermarket to ditch plastic bags for loose fruit & veg in stores by offering 30p reusable veg bags. But the pledge seems to have skipped the online grocery business which, judging by our own order and some angry customers on Twitter, is still sending out plenty of single-use produce bags.

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The messaging from Sainsbury’s on the issue is just as confused as its packing process. The customer service team maintains that orders of loose produce “shouldn’t come in clear bags anymore” but when we asked, a spokeswoman told us: “Currently we only use bags to separate raw meat, fish and poultry from cooked products, and for ease of transport to the customers for multiples of loose produce. Customers can return the bags to their delivery driver who can then recycle them.” 


When it comes to vegetables, shoppers can save some money by opting for loose on most of the products we tested. There is a big difference on the baking potatoes, which will cost customers 14p more per potato loose. There are no savings to be made on fruit: shoppers will either break even with the packaged equivalent or pay more. 



Waitrose Group

  Available loose online? (Y/N) Sold by quantity, weight or both? Price loose (£)  Price packaged (£) Difference Any plastic packaging on arrival? (Y/N)
CARROTS Y Quantity 0.63/kg 0.70/kg 11% N
BAKING POTATOES Y Quantity 0.32/each 0.25/each -21% N
BROWN ONIONS Y Quantity 0.92/kg 0.95/kg 3% N
CLOSED CUP MUSHROOMS Y Both 2.99/kg 3.34/kg 11% N
SALAD/VINE TOMATOES Y Quantity 0.16/each 0.12/each -25% OOS
GALA APPLES Y Quantity 0.34/each 0.29/each -14% OOS
ORANGES Y Quantity 0.65/each 0.60/each -7% N
LEMONS Y Quantity 0.39/each 0.30/each -23% N
BANANAS Y Both 0.16/each 0.20/each 25% N
CONFERENCE PEARS Y Quantity 0.44/each 0.33/each -25% N

Delivered: 9

Bag count: 8


Sadly, typing “loose” into the Waitrose site will only get you a very long list of teas. Once you track down the loose fruit & veg there’s a very strong selection, including multiple variants of apples, potatoes and mushrooms. On top of the salad tomato in the test, we could have got a beef tomato, a green marmonde or even a Jack Hawkins. 

On first look, it seems like the Waitrose order is another sea of plastic, but closer inspection of the bags reveals they’re actually all made with corn starch.


Waitrose is the only retailer in our test to give customers instructions on how to recycle the produce bags that come with their orders. Its bags can be composted or used as a liner for a food waste caddy. The mushrooms came wrapped in paper which, according to Waitrose, keeps them dark in the fridge and prolongs their life. 


Again, shoppers buying vegetables loose could save money by going loose but, on the whole, will pay more for loose when it comes to fruit. Shoppers will pay 9p more for a loose pear, 9p more for a loose lemon and 4p more for a loose tomato. 


Who doesn’t deliver loose fruit & veg? 


Although some lines are photographed without packaging, Ocado doesn’t offer any loose fruit & veg. The retailer has made some big comittments to reduce plastic, and has already dropped all PVC, black plastic and polystyrene packaging from its own-label range, but due to its packing processes it’s unable to offer loose produce, “We must comply with food safety regulations and it is currently not hygienic for us to send unwrapped produce through our highly automated warehouses.” says an Ocado spokeswoman. 


Shoppers would struggle to cut down on plastic by shopping loose on because, at present,  the only loose produce available to purchase are peppers and aubergines. Morrisons is yet to respond to The Grocer’s request for comment. 


Again, loose lines are limited at Iceland. You can pop a bunch of plastic-free bananas into your online basket but that’s about it. However, Iceland recently announced that it was trialling paper packaging for fruit & veg, which would significantly reduce the amount of plastic packaging it uses. At the moment, the trial is only happening in selected stores.