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When will our fresh produce shortages end?

Shoppers across the UK have been left disappointed as a result of empty supermarket shelves in fresh produce aisles.

Bad weather in the major food-producing nations of Spain and Morocco is credited with causing the food shortages, but another significant cause has been rising expenses as a result of the conflict in Ukraine. Everything has been impacted, including tomatoes, aubergines, and raspberries.

Early season production in glasshouses across the UK and Northern Europe has not been at normal levels so far in 2023. The energy crisis has seen bills soar for food producers, who have partially shut down their sites as a result.

According to chief executive of food supply chain trade body the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) Nigel Jenney, food production in the Netherlands “is probably in the region of 80% down and they are the biggest suppliers in Northern Europe.

"There's been a myriad of individual factors", Jenney explained, adding that producers have suffered from "Weather, fuel costs, packaging and distribution costs, energy costs."

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the UK has suffered particularly badly from the shortage as other European countries show little sign of empty shelves.

Experts suggest that the UK could be suffering more because of lower domestic production and complex supply chains.

Jenney told National World that he expects the situation to rumble on well into the spring. He said we will not see “usual levels of availability” in stores until “beyond Easter”.

Some analyses of the food shortages, though, have been more hopeful. Therese Coffey, Secretary of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), said MPs on Thursday, February 23, that she anticipates the crisis to endure no longer than another month.

“I am led to believe by my officials after discussion with industry and retailers, we anticipate the situation will last about another two to four weeks,” she said. “It is important that we try and make sure that we get alternative sourcing options.

“Even if we cannot control the weather it is important that we try and make sure the supply continues to not be frustrated in quite the way it has been due to these unusual weather incidents.”

Her comments that "we can't control the weather in Spain" were mocked at the National Farmers Union (NFU) conference this week in Birmingham. But Ms Coffey had her time estimate echoed by the British Tomato Growers Association (BTGA), which said consumers can expect to see “significant volumes” of British tomatoes on supermarket shelves by the end of March.


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