Retailers warn that UK salad shortages could last for ‘forever’

UK supermarket shelves will be short of tomatoes and peppers for weeks, retailers warn. The National Farmers Union has warned that domestic production is falling in all agricultural sectors (eggs, salads, etc.).

Supermarkets Asda, Morrisons and others said Tuesday that they would ration a variety of salad products following bad weather in northern Europe and North Africa.

The British Retail Consortium, a trade organization, stated that the disruption, which saw empty shelves on supermarket shelves all over the country, was “expected” to last for a few weeks.

Mark Spencer, the minister of agriculture, told reporters at the FFU’s annual conference, that the shortages were caused by “a frost” in Spain and Morocco in November and December. This damaged many of the brassica and salad crops, which are traditionally used for imports at this time.

Minette Batters, President of NFU, stated at the same time that supply of salad vegetables from UK greenhouses was also decreasing because of high energy prices making it difficult for some growers.

Salad crop growers used to operate all year, but at lower levels during winter. Batters demanded that the government support their energy costs via its exemption scheme for energy-intensive industries, from which growers are exempt.

She said that “for protected crop growers, [crops] grown under cover, the price for gas means they are mothballing many businesses.” “We are experiencing huge contractions — the lowest production levels since 1985, when records started.”

Batters said that the reductions in post-Brexit farm subsidy, along with sharp rises in raw material and labour prices, had caused production declines in other areas of agriculture including eggs. She said that almost 1bn less eggs were produced in 2022 compared to 2019.

She said that other sectors face an uncertain future because direct [subsidy] payments have been phased out in the backdrop of high-cost inflation.

Asda stated that customers could only buy three products at a given time from its product lines, which include tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce as well as salad bags, lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, lettuce, leaf, greens, raspberries, broccoli, cauliflower, and other vegetables.

Asda stated that “Like many supermarkets, we are facing sourcing problems on some products which are grown in south Spain and north Africa.” Morrisons stated that it will limit purchases of tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuces starting Wednesday.

According to the BRC, “While disruptions will be felt for a few weeks,” supermarkets are skilled at managing supply chains and work with farmers to ensure customers have access to a wide variety of fresh produce.

As a result, Spencer was subject to tough questions from farmers attending the NFU event. They asked him questions about a variety of post-Brexit issues including the lack of checks on import-bound food products and the slow rollout farm subsidy schemes.

On Tuesday ministers announced that they would make more grants than PS168mn available to farmers for innovation, animal welfare and welfare changes, as well as protection of the environment.

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