Comment: Why the current salad shortages could just be the tip of the iceberg

The UK’s shortage of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers could spiral into something even more serious.

The causes are multiple, but it’s important to understand there are both short-term direct causes and underlying problems which magnify the impact of these direct effects. 

In fact, you can liken the challenges to peeling an onion - a vegetable that isn’t in short supply.

At the outer layer, you have weather conditions in certain regions such as southern Spain, labour shortages in the UK and quite possibly a Brexit effect.

Peel off that layer, and there is the policy of fixed pricing and small margins accruing to farmers. As Henry Dimbleby, adviser to the government on food strategy in England, said: a “weird supermarket culture” involving fixed pricing is a partial explanation. And, as a survey from Sustain found, UK farmers often only make a one per cent profit from the food they produce.

But peel off that level, and the onion’s core reveals an approach to managing the supply chain that puts insufficient emphasis on robustness and resilience. 

It is vital that food retailers not only thoroughly audit their supply chain, but take a holistic view and apply more robust risk assessment. Food supply must always be 100 per cent secure. 

A shortage of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers is one thing, but insufficient resilience of the food supply chain could lead to wider food shortages, which would be disastrous. 

In short, the food supply chain needs more care, or food shortages will become an ever more common problem.

Oliver Chapman is chief executive of supply chain specialist OCI