In recent years, the cost of tomatoes in the UK has seen a significant increase and is anticipated to continue rising. This trend aligns with the slight uptick in inflation, which reached 4% recently, defying expectations of a decrease.
Unlike other products whose price hikes are slowing, tomatoes are expected to become increasingly expensive. According to data from Promar International, the production cost of tomatoes has surged by 38.5% since 2022, marking the largest increase among the nine most commonly consumed fruits and vegetables in the UK.
British tomato farmers are grappling with soaring expenses in energy, packaging, and labour.
The wholesale prices of tomatoes, which are the costs for buying from importers or suppliers, have dramatically increased over the past 18 months. This has led to an average price of £3.26 per kilo last year, the highest in 50 years, as reported by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). British tomato production is expected to decline this year due to the increased costs of cultivation, while climate change impacts harvests in key importing countries.
Tomato producers are contending with high inflation, drought, and extreme weather, making it challenging to sell tomatoes profitably.
Despite a slowdown in inflation from double digits to 3.7% in November, industry experts anticipate that tomato prices will remain high for an extended period. This situation has left many independent retailers in a difficult position, unable to fully pass on the increased costs to consumers without risking losing them to competitors.
In supermarkets, customers are paying more than ever for tomatoes. For instance, Tesco's Nightingale Farms cherry tomatoes and Sainsbury's cherry tomatoes have seen price increases of 5.3% since last December.
The tomato market has become increasingly volatile, with disruptions expected to continue throughout the year. British tomato production is on a precarious edge, relying on fragile supply chains.
Looking ahead, 2024 is predicted to be a challenging year for the horticulture industry. Some of the UK's leading fruit and vegetable growers are reconsidering expansion plans.
The closure of CF Fertilisers' Billingham complex, one of the UK's largest fertiliser manufacturers, has further increased production costs.
With British growers planning a smaller harvest this year, the need for imports will grow. However, global tomato growers are also facing production issues.
Spain, a significant exporter to the UK, experienced a severe drought last summer, while Morocco, another major importer, struggled with extreme weather conditions, leading to poor crops.
These global challenges have resulted in price surges and shortages, affecting the availability and cost of tomatoes in British stores.