Fruit and veg are being rationed by two major supermarkets after shortages left shelves empty. A run on supplies of tomatoes and other out-of-season fruit and vegetables prompted Asda and Morrisons to ration how many of the products individual customers can take – with fears rising that other supermarkets may follow suit.
Asda has introduced a customer limit of three each on tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, salad bags, broccoli cauliflower and raspberries. Meanwhile, Morrisons is set to introduce a maximum cap of two items per customer across tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, peppers from today.
Other supermarkets are understood to be considering similar measures.
The shortages come after growers and suppliers in Morocco faced cold temperatures, heavy rain, flooding and cancelled ferries over the past three to four weeks – all of which have affected the volume of fruit reaching Britain.
Supplies from Britain’s other major winter source, Spain, have also been badly affected by the weather.
Marks & Spencer has confirmed that it is “monitoring” the situation, but that it has no plans to ration fresh produce.
Tesco has not announced any rations, although SNP Councillor for Rutherglen Central & North, Andrea Cowan took to Twitter on Friday to note a lack of tomatoes in the shop, writing: “I’m sorry, Tesco this is not good enough in your Dalmarnock store on a Friday afternoon. Lots more shelves with empty boxes throughout the store. Rising prices are bad enough but lack of basic foodstuffs is unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Aldi and Lidl all do not have any plans to ration fruit and vegetables at the moment.
An Asda spokesman said: “Like other supermarkets, we are experiencing sourcing challenges on some products that are grown in southern Spain and north Africa.
“We have introduced a temporary limit of three of each product on a very small number of fruit and vegetable lines, so customers can pick up the products they are looking for.”
Shoppers across the country have been sharing their frustration on social media after being unable to find certain products at their local stores.
One couldn’t get apples, another struggled with cabbages, and a third was stumped for orange juice. Tomatoes and iceberg lettuce proved particularly difficult to buy.
Hilary Paterson-Jones said she had to visit four supermarkets in her home town of Holyhead, Anglesey, to complete her weekly shop.
She said: “There was hardly any fresh produce in Tesco. In Morrisons I asked a young staff member what was going on and he said there was nothing in the back stores. It was the same in Aldi and Lidl, it seemed to be affecting all the supermarkets.
“Shortages have been getting worse in recent months but I was shocked to see so many empty shelves at 10am on a Saturday morning. Things can get bad during the summer when the tourists arrive, but nothing like this. Prices are going through the roof but a lack of basic foodstuffs is unacceptable.”
Production problems in Morocco began in January with unusually cold night-time temperatures that affected tomato ripening. These were compounded by ferry cancellations due to bad weather hitting lorry deliveries.
Now supermarket buyers across Europe are scrambling to secure enough produce for their customers driving up prices and reducing availability.
In the UK and Netherlands, farmers have cut back on their use of greenhouses to grow winter crops due to higher electricity prices. However, UK producers are beginning to move into their growing season, which is expected to ease the longer term situation as retailers also look to alternatives to produce from Spain and northern Africa.
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Nigel Jenney, chief executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium, which represents around 700 businesses said costs from fuel, energy, packaging and distribution costs were also having an impact for producers.
The UK appears to have been bearing the brunt of the shortages, with little sign so far of empty shelves in other European countries. Industry sources suggested the UK may be suffering because of lower domestic production and more complex supply chains, as well as a price-sensitive market.
Brexit was not a factor they said as the main impact of new border procedures for fruit and vegetable imports will not be felt until January 2024. Imports from Morocco, which is outside the EU, are already subject to border checks.
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said of the shortages: “Everybody wants to avoid rationing but I think there are going to be challenges on availability of some food items. The last thing anybody wants to do is to create a level of panic buying.”
Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers’ Association, warned Britain was in for a “difficult year” as farmers were now choosing to plant wheat over vegetables as a more profitable crop.
He said: “Growers simply aren’t going to put crops in the ground if they can’t see a viable return from them.
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