The shortage of vegetables that has hit UK supermarkets will last until April.
A cold snap pushing across southern Europe through the December period hit harvests and also prevented growers from planting new crops, leading to a trebling of prices and rationing in supermarkets.
CEO of hospitality and food services firm Prestige Purchasing David Read said it would take months for supplies to be replenished and prices return to regular levels.
“We’ve known for some time that there is a problem. As early as mid December we were seeing prices start to rise, and availability problems occurring. Prices of some lines have trebled as scare supply has encouraged traders to compete for stocks, and the short-term outlook is more of the same.
“In some areas the continued poor weather is discouraging planting, so we may be well into April before supply increases and prices revert to more normal levels.”
An extreme mix of drought followed by flooding and freezing conditions across Europe severely hit growers in southern Spain, devastating supplies of vegetables including spinach, courgettes, lettuce and broccoli, with iceberg lettuces suffering the most damage because of their short shelf life.
Supermarket chains have already imposed restrictions on the number of lettuces that can be bought by each customer, with Tesco introducing a three-lettuce limit while rivals Morrisons has enforced a two-lettuce limit.
A Tesco spokesperson said in a statement to The Guardian that they were limiting the number of purchases as a response to bulk buying.
“This is not something we want to do but we felt we had no choice. We wanted to make sure that we have enough lettuces for our shoppers. In some supermarkets they are completely sold out or have nearly doubled in price.”
Many European countries rely on the Spanish regions of Murcia, Almeria and Valencia for the supply of lettuce during the winter months and as the UK imports an estimated 50% of its vegetables, supermarkets’ reliance on Spanish imports has heavily impacted supplies.
As a result, wholesalers have turned to the US for their vegetables at considerable cost, leading to a 29% increase in prices in some UK supermarkets, with the price of iceberg lettuces increasing from an average of 87p in January 2016 to £1.12 last month, according to Epos NowFood.
Food and agribusiness lawyer at Mills and Reeves Jessica Burt said supermarkets should prepare themselves better for future events affecting supply.
“UK supermarkets are feeling the pain of lack of supply chain diversity after the Spanish snow. Dependence on Mediterranean growers leaves them little choice but to fly vegetables from America, with inevitable financial and environmental costs, or disappoint customers by rationing.
“Any extreme event can cause a supply crisis when companies lack this diversity. Food businesses can protect themselves by regularly updating crisis management plans in conjunction with business continuity plans, to protect supplies, as well as ensuring that in times of crisis quality and safety checks are not compromised.”
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