Biggest tomato supplier shuts greenhouses due to gas price

12 October 2021

The UK’s biggest tomato supplier has warned production is threatened by soaring gas prices that mean it is too expensive to heat greenhouses.

Phil Pearson, group development director and head grower at APS Group – which supplies around 40% of Britain’s tomatoes – told Supply Management: “I am really very worried for the future of UK food production in 2022.” 

He said there will be “empty shelves” as the company’s energy costs have increased between six to seven fold. “The result of the gas prices mean, as an industry, we're going to have less British tomatoes next year,” he added.

He said gas prices meant 10% of APS glasshouses will be left empty. 

“This is just unheard of. I've been in this industry for 40 years, and I've never experienced anything even remotely close to this. We’ve never had empty glasshouses before in my career. It's an absolute tragedy.”

Pearson said gas prices are putting pressures on an already strained industry and “prices are already going up”. 

“We're already negotiating higher prices with our retailer customers, and we supply to all the retailers. I’m afraid we’ll only be able to supply those customers that can afford to pay for them,” he said. 

He said crops of cucumbers were also being affected.

NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw told SM recent supply issues have “highlighted a key fragility in the UK food system, and by extension the vulnerability of UK food security”.

“The high global gas prices and rising fertiliser prices have created huge uncertainty as to the availability of fertilisers in the UK,” Bradshaw said.  

“This, together with reduced production of fertiliser due to the shutdown of the factories, means some farmers will not have yet placed orders of much-needed fertilisers or taken delivery of existing orders, which could have a significant impact on farmers' ability to produce homegrown food in the coming season.”

Meanwhile, Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said the industry was facing “enormous stress” from the cost of CO2.

“The increased cost of buying CO2 is yet another burden on the food and drink industry which is already facing enormous stresses. This will of course add more pressure on prices for shoppers and diners.  

“We continue to work with the government to ensure supply continues. Once we are certain that the immediate supply issues are resolved, we will then turn our attention to the need to build resilience into the production of CO2 to protect our food and drink supply chain.” 

Energy intensive businesses could receive government loans help worth hundreds of millions of pounds in response to rising costs, the BBC has reported.  

Industry leaders from the ceramics, paper and steel sectors had called on government to introduce an energy price cap.  

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