Asda and Morrisons limit the sale of some fruits and vegetables End-shutdown

Half empty vegetable display at Tesco, Trafford

Asda and Morrisons are placing limits on purchases of some fruit and vegetables as supermarkets face shortages of fresh produce.

Asda said it was limiting sales of items such as tomatoes, peppers and lettuce to three per customer.

Morrisons said limits of two on items such as cucumbers would be introduced in stores from Tuesday.

However, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Lidl, Aldi, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer currently have no set limits.

Images of empty supermarket shelves have been making the rounds on social media, after shoppers found it difficult to get hold of some items in recent days.

The shortage, which is also affecting Ireland, is largely due to extreme weather in Spain and North Africa, where flooding, snow and hail have affected crops.

During this time of year, a significant proportion of what the UK consumes typically comes from those regions.

The shortage is expected to last “a few weeks” until the UK growing season begins and retailers find alternative sources of supply, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said.

Andrew Opie, director of Food and Sustainability for the trade group, added that supermarkets are “experts in managing supply chain issues” and were working with farmers to ensure a continuous supply of fresh produce.

As well as tomatoes, peppers and lettuce, Asda said it was also limiting sales of salad bags, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower and raspberry tubs.

“Like other supermarkets, we are experiencing sourcing challenges on some products that are grown in southern Spain and North Africa,” a spokesperson said.

Morrisons also said cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and peppers were affected in its stores.

In the winter months, the UK imports around 95% of its tomatoes and 90% of its lettuce, the majority from Spain and North Africa, according to the BRC.

Southern Spain has been suffering from unusually cold weather and in Morocco crop yields have been affected by flooding, while storms have caused ferries to be delayed or cancelled.

Meanwhile, in the UK and the Netherlands, farmers have reduced the use of greenhouses to grow winter crops due to rising electricity prices.

UK crops hit

Paul Smith of wholesaler Oliver Kay said with lower planting levels this year, there was less surplus available to make up for lower yields elsewhere.

“Growers in the UK and Europe have been battling severe weather conditions for several months,” he said.

A spell of heatwaves in June 2022 led to the UK’s fourth hottest summer on record with temperatures breaking the 40C mark for the first time. That was followed by sharp and prolonged frosts in December.

Tim O’Malley, managing director of Nationwide Produce, one of the UK’s biggest fresh produce companies, warned his customers that could also mean “major shortages” in domestic crops.

British carrot, parsnip, cabbage and cauliflower crops were affected by bad weather, O’Malley said.

“We are about to see severe shortages and price increases on these lines in the coming weeks and months,” he said.

“The biggest problem we have now as an industry is not inflation, it’s mother nature,” he added.

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union, called for more support for growers, calling it “ridiculous” that the horticulture sector was not included in the government’s support plan for energy-intensive industries.

However, Agriculture Minister Mark Spencer said the shortages were the result of “weather events in other parts of the world” and not challenges facing UK growers.

Complex supply chains

Anecdotal evidence suggests the UK has been hardest hit by shortages, but problems have also been reported in Ireland.

Tesco Ireland said its stock levels were temporarily affected, while locally owned chain SuperValu also reported problems.

Industry sources suggested that the UK may be suffering due to lower domestic production and more complex supply chains, as well as a price sensitive market. But they said Brexit was unlikely to be a factor.

The main impact of the new border procedures for fruit and vegetable imports will not be felt until January 2024, while imports from Morocco, which is outside the EU, are already subject to border controls.

Industry sources include wholesaler Ken Mortimer, whose Heritage Fine Food Company supplies restaurants and schools in south-west England, said he did not believe Brexit was the root of the current shortages.

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