Bad Weather Leads to UK “Courgette Crisis”, Supermarkets Hike Up Prices

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07 Feb 2017 --- Rain, frost and snow in Spain have resulted in a shortage of courgettes, broccoli and iceberg lettuce. Prices have surged, and supermarkets are now rationing the scarcest produce. A spate of poor weather in southern Spain – where most of the UK’s courgettes come from – has led to failed crops and a blip in the courgette supply chain.

Consumers across the UK have been complaining about a lack of courgettes in supermarkets and online retailers at a time of peak demand from consumers keen to pursue new year resolutions to eat more greens.

Wholesale prices for courgettes, a staple of the Mediterranean diet, have more than tripled after unusually cold and wet weather in Spain where most of the European supplies are grown.

Jordi Vorderman, the UK sales manager at Dutch vegetable supplier Valstar Holland, said prices had quadrupled since the summer. He said: “The main issue is that supplies are low because of cold nights in Spain and Italy. The cold affects courgettes a lot.”

The biggest share of fresh vegetables eaten in the UK in winter comes from Murcia and Valencia in southern Spain, but the region’s crops have been hit hard by unseasonal weather, leading to courgette prices rising four-fold in two weeks. Cucumbers and green beans have also been affected by the bad weather.

Heavy rain in mid-December ruined half the lettuce harvest in Murcia. Last month the rain was followed by frost and snow which caused some vegetable lorries to become stranded. Some Spanish growers have reportedly flown in supplies from the US in order to fulfil contracts with grocers.

Shoppers afflicted by the “courgette crisis” are facing further privation, as supermarket chains Morrisons and Tesco imposed restrictions on the number of lettuces that can be bought by each customer.

Tesco has introduced a three-lettuce limit on icebergs while rival Morrisons has imposed a two-lettuce limit and banned shoppers from buying more than three heads of broccoli.

The UK’s largest retailer posted signs on its salad sections which stated: “Due to continued weather problems in Spain, there is a shortage on iceberg lettuce. To protect the availability for all our customers, we are limiting bulk purchases to three per person. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

British shoppers have already been warned that shortages of courgettes, aubergines, salad and celery will continue until the spring – and they can expect to pay substantially higher prices for the stock that is available.

Tesco said the signage had been sent to all its stores but was likely to be most necessary in larger outlets in city centers and towns, where sandwich shops and restaurants were likely to try to buy large numbers of lettuces due to shortages in wholesale supplies.

However, iceberg lettuces are listed as “currently not available” on Tesco’s online shopping site, and those that are on sale have generally been imported from the US, incurring hefty air freight costs. 

Morrisons said it is rationing applied in all 492 stores across the UK and was intended “to restrict multiple sales to larger buyers such as restaurants, caterers and snack bars so that consumes are not losing out”.

Where they are still available in store, Tesco is selling icebergs for 79p ($1). The standard price before the shortages was about 50p ($0.80).

Sainsbury’s has just started selling US-grown icebergs for £1.40 ($1.73) each under the Farm Folk brand – packed by Ely-based Adventures in Food.

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