The ongoing supply crisis on European vegetables and salad has hit UK retailers with consumers tweeting pictures of empty shelves and mainstream newspapers picking up the story.
Floods and heavy rain in Murcia have proved catastrophic for produce supply from the region since before Christmas, but the issues had so far been confined to high prices and low availability on the wholesale markets.
Today (17 January), papers including the Telegraph, the Sun and the Guardian have reported on a “courgette crisis”, with the Sun suggesting the lack of supply has been aided by January health kicks and diets spiking demand.
Supermarkets have said poor weather in Spain has led to availability issues, but have largely downplayed what is turning into an escalating supply crisis across much of Europe.
A spokesperson for Tesco said: “Due to bad weather conditions in Spain, we are experiencing a few availability issues, but are working with our suppliers to resolve them as quickly as possible.” Meanwhile a Sainsbury’s spokesperson noted there have been “severe weather” in southern Europe, but said “we are working with our suppliers to maintain supply for our customers.”
The Co-op said that it is “not experiencing any shortages in fruit or veg”, but an industry insider told FPJ that a local Co-op store had bare shelves on many veg and salad lines, while the nearby Lidl was full.
Fears in the industry are now focused on availability for the next two months, as heavy rain damaged young plants and halted drilling, as well as destroying current crops.
Spokesperson for the British Leafy Salads Association (BLSA), Dieter Lloyd, said the challenge is competing with other European countries, who will also be experiencing shortages. “If the German or French markets are prepared to pay more for the product, we could end up with nothing," he said.
“Unprecedented conditions" across Europe are making the salad supply very erratic, BLSA said. "These difficult trading conditions are set to continue into February and March. We expect to see further contingency supply coming in from the US, which is an expensive solution."
Based on the growing cycle of wholehead lettuce, including Gem and iceberg, Lloyd estimated that real shortages will kick in by the end of February to the first week of March, as the last crops were able to be planted before the rain in mid December. “Wholesale prices on iceberg are over a £1 a head, while some retailers are still selling it for 50p,” he said.
MD of QPI Spain, Julian Isaacson, said the problems caused by heavy rain before Christmas are now “coming home to roost”. “Due to strong demand, producers are going into the crop too early, which will just create a massive problem. That is starting to hit us now," he said.
Isaacson said that, in Almeria, cold temperatures are hindering courgette growth, presumably leading to the shortages noticed by UK newspapers. “Courgettes just aren’t growing. We’ve had very cold night temperatures across Spain, and courgettes are very sensitive to that. Similarly, aubergines and peppers are growing very slowly,” he said.
“There are also big problems in Turkey, Greece, Morocco and southern Italy, which are all countries that normally supply at the same time as Spain. Some Turkish crops have been completely decimated after they had heavy snow recently.”
QPI is managing to fulfil retail orders for now, Isaacson said, though he warned the situation is not likely to improve any time soon. “There are very low temperatures predicted for this weekend again,” he added.