At the end of 2016, adverse weather conditions in Europe had a significant impact on the imports of fruit and vegetables. In the Spanish regions of Murcia and Valencia, heavy rainfall in December caused extensive flooding that spoiled the harvest of a number of crops, including several types of leaves, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers.
Normally, alternatives to the Spanish supplies would have been found in Italy and Southern France, but unusual snowfall halted the harvest there. With 25% of the UK’s vegetable imports coming from Spain, this has had a significant impact on UK consumers. The result has been limited availability of affected crops and rising prices in the shops, causing problems for consumers and particularly those working in food procurement in the hospitality industry.
Managing the supply of fruit and vegetables
Managing the supply shortage has proved a challenge for retailers and the hospitality industry alike. Some supermarkets imposed a limit on the number of particular salad crops, such as iceberg lettuce, sold to each customer. Alternative supplies have been sourced from further afield, including the US, but this is expensive and has driven up prices for consumers. Cold temperatures in the UK in January held back the growth of some homegrown produce, but with warmer temperatures in February, this situation is improving. For those in the hospitality industry seeking alternatives to the European crops for their menus, homegrown produce is likely to remain the best and most cost-effective.
Current state of worst affected crops
The supply of lettuces and other leaf vegetables is slowly improving, but the produce is still limited and smaller than usual. Prices are likely to remain high for the remainder of the import season.
Alternatives to Spanish tomatoes have been sourced from Morocco. However, Mediterranean temperatures have been cooler than usual, and these tomatoes are likely to be of an orange or yellow colour rather than dark red.
Prices of peppers are now easing as the supply increases and this improvement is expected to continue throughout March. Strawberries have been sourced from Egypt, though Spanish strawberries are now coming through to the market. These will continue to be supplemented by the Egyptian crop. The harvest of citrus fruits is expected to be later than usual this year. So far, easy-peelers have been the most badly affected by the adverse weather as these are the most perishable.
This is likely to remain an ongoing situation, and PSL will bring the latest updates to the website as they happen. For now, supplies of leaves and salads are gradually improving but will remain lower than usual and in smaller sizes. This combined with imports from further afield will keep prices inflated.
Finding alternatives that are more plentiful, including homegrown root vegetables such as parsnips, carrots and beetroot, is advisable for anyone wanting to keep their menu prices reasonable while maintaining high standards. April and May mark the end of the UK import season. Assuming that the growing conditions remain as expected, from this point, prices and availability of fruit and vegetable crops should become more predictable.