Britain faces tomato shortage as imports hit

Grocers said the situation was exacerbated by less winter production in greenhouses. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON - Britain is facing a shortage of tomatoes after supplies to supermarkets including market leader Tesco and No. 2 Sainsbury’s were hit by disrupted harvests in southern Europe and North Africa.

Grocers said the situation was exacerbated by less winter production in greenhouses in Britain and the Netherlands due to high energy costs.

Mr Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which represents the major supermarkets, said difficult weather in southern Europe and northern Africa had disrupted various crops including tomatoes and peppers.

“While disruption is expected to last a few weeks, supermarkets are adept at managing supply chain issues and are working with farmers to ensure that customers are able to access a wide range of fresh produce,” he added.

Social media has been awash with pictures of empty fruit and vegetable shelves, with tomatoes in particular short supply.

Though largely self-sufficient in the summer, Britain typically imports 95 per cent of its tomatoes and 90 per cent of lettuces from December to March, according to BRC data.

Spanish producers also expressed concern.

“The situation is beginning to be worrying, as some companies are starting to have problems in meeting their clients’ schedules,” the Association of Fruit and Vegetable Producers’ Organisations of Almeria said in a statement.

Snow and hail

Mr James Bailey, executive director of upmarket supermarket Waitrose, said supplies had been hit by extreme weather in Spain and in north Africa.

“It’s been snowing and hailing in Spain, it was hailing in North Africa last week – that is wiping out a large proportion of those crops,” he told LBC radio, adding that availability should slowly improve.

“Give it about a fortnight and the other growing seasons in other parts of the world will have caught up and we should be able to get that supply back in.”

A spokesman for Asda, Britain’s No. 3 supermarket, said it was seeing some issues on a small number of lines, mainly tomatoes. The grocer still had a good selection of fresh tomatoes in store, though not every variant.

A spokesman for Marks & Spencer said the group was not immune from the supply issues but had mitigated by sourcing from alternative growing markets.

Last year Britain’s grocers suffered supply disruptions due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but availability improved before Christmas, except for eggs.

Earlier this month, Morocco barred exports of tomatoes, onions and potatoes to West African countries to reduce domestic prices and protect exports to Europe. REUTERS

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