Salad imports into the UK have fallen by at least half, according to the main group representing English producers, highlighting the scale of shortages faced by households.
Four UK supermarkets started rationing produce including peppers, cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes this week after frost in Spain and North Africa led to a sharp decline in availability, with the UK among the hardest-hit destinations. supply reduction.
Lee Stiles, secretary of the Lea Valley Growers Association, whose members also import produce, said “about half of everything we’ve been waiting for is coming. . . this will have the greatest effect on companies buying on the open market.”
The British Retail Consortium said that in 2019, the latest year for which it has data, imports accounted for around 95 percent of the tomato market in March and 90 percent for lettuce.
A major Spanish producer told the Financial Times that current industry supplies were a third of normal levels for this time of year, while a UK supermarket said it had around two-thirds of its normal quantity of produce.
The shortage was compounded by UK and Dutch greenhouse growers who chose not to grow fruits and vegetables during the winter due to high energy costs and a shortage of labor in the UK, farming groups said.
Tesco, Asda, Aldi and Morrisons are now limiting purchases.
Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey told the House of Commons on Thursday that retailers told her the shortages were expected to last for two to four weeks.
“It’s important to make sure we value the specialties that we have in this country,” she said. “A lot of people would be eating turnips right now instead of necessarily thinking about. . . lettuce and tomato”.
Prices have skyrocketed for salads across the continent after bad weather. But the UK has been particularly hard hit by shortages because of the extra journey to transport produce across the English Channel, coupled with comparatively low retail prices for vegetables, Stiles said. Shortages have also been reported in Ireland.
UK supermarkets buy most of their vegetables under contract, but some suppliers prioritize other contracts or sell produce at higher prices on the open market, executives said.
The pressure on supermarkets in the UK has been intensified by businesses such as greengrocers and hospitality stores turning to supermarkets for their supplies, as well as consumers’ preference for salads out of season.
Jesús Pérez, commercial director for Spanish producer Verdimed, said production volumes had dropped to around 30% of normal levels after autumn planting grew too fast due to the exceptionally warm weather, so winter planting was slow to grow.
“We think next week will be normal but I don’t know how long it will be before the UK market gets the product because of packaging, transport to warehouses, delivery to stores,” he said.
The UK is also especially dependent on Morocco, which has imposed limits on tomato exports after price spikes. Mehdi Benchekroun, of Moroccan fruit and vegetable exporter DMB & Co, said: “As European supplies from Spain and Portugal dropped because of the cold weather, all the buyers came to Morocco. This situation started at the beginning of the year and domestic prices broke records.”
Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of Copa-Cogeca, the EU farmers’ union, said extra post-Brexit paperwork was also a factor, although full sanitary and phytosanitary checks on imports had yet to be implemented.
“There is a huge demand for certain Spanish products and if Spanish companies are approached, would they choose to sell to the British or to EU countries where they are easier to export to, where they don’t have all the paperwork?” he said.
“It is more complicated to export from Spain to the United Kingdom than to Germany. If you pay enough there will always be sources, but I don’t know if UK retailers are willing to pay extremely high prices.”