As Belgium’s glasshouse season gets underway, BelOrta says it can help UK retailers solve produce shortages – but only if the price is right

BelOrta's commercial director Jo Lambrecht inspects empty shelves at Sainsbury's in London

BelOrta’s commercial director Jo Lambrecht (left) inspects empty salad vegetable shelves at Sainsbury’s in London

Belgium is poised to help UK retailers fill empty shelves as shortages continue in tomatoes, cucumbers, and a range of other produce.

This was the message from leading Belgian fresh produce cooperative BelOrta following recent warnings that the current supply shortages were likely to continue for several weeks.

A group of BelOrta’s growers were taken on a tour of UK retailers and farms by FPJ managing director Chris White on 2-3 March, to explore opportunities to boost exports to the UK post-Brexit.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme on 3 March, BelOrta CEO Phillippe Appeltans said: “We hope that in the coming weeks – as the quantities of our tomatoes, eggplants and so on are increasing – we can help to solve the problem.”

He pointed out that in tomatoes BelOrta alone produces one and a half times the total UK volume.

However, Appeltans stressed that this will only be possible if UK retailers are prepared to pay a fair price. “We have inflation, and inflation means our production and logistics costs are much higher,” he said.

BelOrta runs an auction and operates a “typical market approach” to selling its produce. As such, only 30 per cent of its produce (excluding apples and pears) is sold through fixed contracts. The remaining volume is sold at weekly or daily prices.

“If [UK] retailers are ready to pay these prices, Belgium can supply it,” Appeltans said.

The grower’s price for BelOrta’s loose round tomatoes on 1 March was around €3/kg, while its speciality tomatoes on the vine commanded €6/kg.

By contrast, UK growers were paid around £1.5-1.60/kg for their loose round tomatoes, according to research by Farming Today.

Supermarket prices also differ significantly between the UK and Belgium. Sainsbury’s and Tesco sell salad tomatoes for £1.75/kg, while Belgian retailer Delhaize currently sells its standard tomatoes for around £4.66/kg, according to the BBC.