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Rationing of fruit and veg in UK supermarkets to ‘last for weeks’ | UK | News

Food supply shortages set to last long-term predicts farmer

Shops were forced to introduce rationing on Tuesday as a fruit and vegetable shortage left shelves bare. One grocery expert warned: “Disruption is expected to last a few weeks.”

Asda said: “Like other supermarkets, we are experiencing sourcing challenges on some products. We have introduced a temporary limit of three of each product on a very small number of fruit and vegetable lines, so customers can pick up the products they are looking for.”

Other supermarkets are monitoring their own supply chains: Marks & Spencer said it was not immune from the issues but was sourcing stock from alternative markets.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium which represents supermarkets, said: “Difficult weather conditions in the south of Europe and northern Africa have disrupted harvest for some fruit and vegetables.

While disruption is expected to last a few weeks, supermarkets are adept at managing supply chain issues and are working with farmers to ensure that customers are able to access a wide range of fresh produce.”

Supermarkets are monitoring supply chains

Supermarkets are monitoring supply chains (Image: Robert Mellen/PA)

Shoppers across the UK shared their frustrations on social media after trekking from store to store only to discover certain fresh foodstuffs were out of stock.

Tomatoes and iceberg lettuce proved particularly hard to find.

Hilary Paterson-Jones had to try four supermarkets in Holyhead, Anglesey to finish her weekly shop.

She said: “There was hardly any fresh produce in Tesco. In Morrisons, I asked a young staff member what was going on and he said there was nothing in the back.

“It was the same in Aldi and Lidl. Shortages have been getting worse in recent months but I was shocked to see so many empty shelves at 10am. Prices are going through the roof – but a lack of basic foodstuffs is unacceptable.”

Growers and suppliers in Morocco have faced cold snaps, heavy rain, flooding and ferry cancellations for weeks – affecting the volume of fruit reaching Britain.

Shoppers in a Tesco superstore in West Sussex where some fresh fruit and veg are in short supply

Shoppers across the country have been sharing their frustration on social media (Image: Adam Gerrard)

Production problems in Morocco began in January with unusually cold night-time temperatures that affected tomato ripening.

Crops from Spain, our other main winter food source, have also been affected by bad weather.

Supermarket buyers in Europe are reported to be scrambling to secure enough produce for their customers, driving up prices and reducing stocks.

Also, British and Dutch farmers cut back on using greenhouses in winter due to high electricity bills.

But UK producers are beginning to move into their growing season and that should calm the situation in the longer term.

Nigel Jenney, chief executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium which represents around 700 firms, said costs of fuel, energy, packaging and distribution were also having an impact.

Shoppers in a Tesco superstore in West Sussex where some fresh fruit and veg are in short supply

Industry sources suggested the UK may be suffering because of lower domestic production (Image: Adam Gerrard)

The UK seems to be bearing the brunt of the shortages, with few empty shelves in other European countries.

Industry sources suggested Britain may be suffering because of lower domestic production and more complex supply chains, as well as a price-sensitive market.

They claimed Brexit was not a factor since the main impact of new border procedures for fruit and vegetable imports will not be felt until next January.

Imports from non-EU Morocco are already checked at borders.

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “Everybody wants to avoid rationing but I think there are going to be challenges on availability of some food items. The last thing anybody wants to do is to create a level of panic buying.”

Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers’ Association, warned the UK was in for a “difficult year” as farmers were now opting to plant more-profitable wheat rather than vegetables.

He added: “Growers simply aren’t going to put crops in the ground if they can’t see a viable return from them.

“At the moment the rate of inflation for fresh produce is significantly below the general rate of inflation for food.

“Supermarkets are just not prepared to pass on the costs and there isn’t enough money to provide the sorts of returns everybody needs to keep going.”

Wholesale experts Nationwide Produce said the spot cost of many vegetables had doubled and even trebled compared with their usual price tag at this time of year.

Tim O’Malley, managing director, told The Grocer trade magazine: “In the 40 years I’ve been in this trade, I’ve never seen such high prices across such a broad range of products for such a prolonged period of time.”

The UK usually grows 450,000 tonnes of onions a year but this has fallen to 350,000. The rest will have to be imported from as far as South Africa, Chile, New Zealand and Tasmania.

Mr O’Malley said: “As an industry, we have suffered massive deflation, year on year on year on year.

“The British consumer is going to have to start paying a realistic price for fruit and veg, otherwise UK growers will continue to pull out of growing fresh produce which simply means less homegrown fruit and veg, and more imports.

The risk to reward factor is just getting ridiculous with a lot of growers pulling out of growing veg.

“We’re now seeing thousands of hectares per year being converted into growing crops other than veg, mainly cereals.”