Tomatoes, cucumbers and a host of other vegetables are becoming increasingly difficult to find in Britain.
Several of the country’s largest supermarkets have implemented rationing policies for certain fresh produce as unfavorable conditions in mainland Europe and the north Africa disrupted supplies and left shelves empty in grocery stores across the country. Experts say the country’s Brexit, which was only fully implemented in January 2021, is not primarily to blame, despite suspicions, as shortages have also arisen in EU member Ireland .
The National Farmers’ Union, which represents farmers in England and Wales, said the industry repeatedly saw a “predictable combination” of energy costs and bad weather resulting in empty supermarket shelves.
“Our food resilience in the UK is currently gone,” NFU vice-chairman David Exwood said in a statement this week. “Producers must have the confidence they need, work within a fair and transparent supply chain, ensure fair and sustainable returns so they can do what they do best; produce high quality, nutritious British food to meet buyer demand.
Thanks to its climate, the UK imports much of its fruit and vegetable supply from the warmer parts of the globe, particularly outside the summer months. In winter, the country is even more dependent imports to supply its supermarkets with fresh fruit and vegetables out of season.
Throughout the year, the vast majority of its fruit and vegetable imports come from the EU and Africa.
With crop yields affected by unfavorable weather conditions in source markets, representatives of grocery chains TescoAsda, Morrisons and Aldi have all confirmed Fortune Thursday that they had begun rationing supplies of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, limiting customers to two or three of each item per transaction.
The companies are the UK’s first, third, fourth and fifth largest grocery chains by market share, according to data from market research firm Kantar.
Jane Sherwood—Getty Images
Morrisons said it was also capping purchases of lettuce, while Asda confirmed it had applied its own rationing policy to eight products: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, bags of prepared salad, broccoli, cabbage. flower and raspberries.
An Asda spokesperson said Fortune the company had been hit by supply constraints on certain produce grown in southern Spain and North Africa.
“We have introduced a temporary limit of three of each product on a very small number of fruit and vegetable ranges, so that customers can choose the products they are looking for,” they said.
In a statement, Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said the disruption was expected to last a few weeks, but added that supermarkets were “adept at managing supply chain issues and work with farmers to ensure customers have access to a wide range of fresh produce.
Have the shortages spread beyond Britain?
Vegetable shortages in the UK have raised concerns about panic buying in the coming weeks.
On Thursday it was reported that a woman had been banned from his local grocery store after trying to buy 100 cucumbers.
While some, including Liz Webster, chair of activist group Save British Food, have pointed the finger at Brexit for creating trade barriers that make it difficult to export goods from the EU to Britain, others have suggested that the cause of UK supply shortages is more complex.
Although consumers in many other EU countries were not affected by supply constraints, the Republic of Ireland was also affected by the shortage of fresh vegetablesdespite being an EU member state.
Coexphal, a Spanish trade body made up of 101 fruit and vegetable companies from the southern province of Almería, and other Spanish producers, said The Guardian THURSDAY that although post-Brexit logistics have played a role in creating shortages, crop yields of several vegetables have fallen by more than 20% this season due to unexpected temperature drops, making it “virtually impossible” to honoring many of their commitments.
Meanwhile, the European farmers’ organization Copa-Cogeca told the BBC that when supply tightened, the ability of European producers to coordinate within the EU’s vast single market meant that goods were more likely to remain within the economic bloc.
Shortages could also be more pronounced in the UK than elsewhere in Europe due to the ongoing energy crisiswhich has seen fuel prices soar to unaffordable levels for millions nationwide.
According to research by the NFU, the cost of growing a tomato in Britain has risen by 27% in 2021.
Jack Ward, CEO of the British Growers Association, told Euronews that many British farmers had chosen not to grow certain crops due to skyrocketing production costs, creating a shortfall that could no longer be filled by European imports.
Even in Kherson, a city on the frontline of war-torn Ukraine, supermarket shelves are full of fresh vegetables, according to Lindsey Hilsum, international editor of Brtain’s Channel 4 News.
No shortage of tomatoes here – but I’m in Kherson, a frontline Ukrainian city bombarded daily by the Russians, not a British supermarket. pic.twitter.com/FFbVAf1zHC
— Lindsey Hilsum (@lindseyhilsum) February 23, 2023
According to the Center for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries in the EU, most Ukrainian imports of fresh vegetables come from western and central Asia.
Outside Europe, the United States has become increasingly dependent on other markets for its supply of fresh vegetables since the early 2000s, imports up almost 200% over the past two decades, but the vast majority of its source markets are much closer to home than those currently shaking up the UK supply chain.
Official data shows that in 2020, 77% of fresh vegetables imported into the United States came from Mexico, while 11% came from Canada.
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