Britain's vegetable crisis is its own fault amid purchase caps, says ex-supermarket boss

Empty fruit and vegetable shelves in supermarkets have been seen on social media, with tomatoes in particular short supply. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON - One of Britain’s most experienced retail bosses has blamed the country’s current shortage of salad vegetables on a lack of government support, which has meant home growers have been unable to make up for supplies hit by poor harvests overseas.

On Wednesday, Britain’s biggest supermarket group Tesco followed rivals Asda, Morrisons and Aldi in imposing customer purchase limits on tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers after supplies were hit by disrupted harvests in southern Europe and north Africa.

This week, social media has been awash with pictures of empty fruit and vegetable shelves in supermarkets with tomatoes in particular short supply.

The crisis has been exacerbated by less winter production in greenhouses in Britain and the Netherlands due to high energy costs.

Mr Justin King, who was chief executive of Sainsbury’s for a decade until 2014 and is currently a non-executive director of Marks & Spencer, said on Thursday Britain was uniquely exposed to imports at this time of year because the government had chosen not to support British growers with their energy bills.

“There is a genuine shortage but we did rather bring this problem upon ourselves,” he told BBC radio.

“We could have chosen to subsidise the energy this winter as we have done for other industries.”

Horticulture has been excluded from a government Energy and Trade Intensive Industries scheme that provides help with energy costs.

On Tuesday, Ms Minette Batters, the head of the National Farmers Union of England warned that production of salad ingredients was expected to fall to the lowest level since records began in 1985.

Mr King said that most British supermarkets still had “very good” supply of salad vegetables coming in but overall the country is short.

He said restaurants and high street green grocers were likely struggling to get stock from their wholesale markets and were instead going to the supermarkets for supplies.

“That’s why supermarkets introduce fair purchase policies so that ‘real’ customers are able to buy the one or two that they really need.” REUTERS

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