The shortage of tomatoes and other vegetables in UK supermarkets is a temporary problem and should be resolved in two to four weeks, Environment Secretary Therese Coffey said.
Major supermarkets such as Tesco, Aldi, Asda and Morrisons have introduced customer restrictions on tomatoes and other fresh produce after bad weather combined with transport problems in Africa and Europe caused supply shortages.
In response to an urgent question in the House of Representatives on Thursday, Coffey said:
She said the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is in discussions with retailers about finding alternative sourcing options.
“Even if we can’t control the weather, it’s important that supplies aren’t overwhelmed by these extreme weather events.”
The initial shortage of tomatoes that affected UK supermarkets has since spread to other fruits and vegetables.
On Wednesday, Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket, introduced a temporary purchase limit of three per customer for tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.
The supermarket said it is working hard with its suppliers to ensure customers are getting enough vegetables in light of temporary supply issues.
Aldi, a German-owned supermarket chain, also has restrictions on fresh food.
An Aldi spokesperson said, “We are limiting the purchase of bell peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes to three per person so that as many customers as possible can buy what they need.”
Asda introduced a customer limit of 3 tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, salad bags, broccoli, cauliflower, and raspberries, while Morrisons introduced a 2-piece limit per customer on tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and bell peppers. has been set.
Andrew Opie, Director of Food and Sustainability at the UK Retail Consortium, which represents UK supermarkets, said:
“While the disruption is expected to continue for weeks, supermarkets are managing supply chain issues well and are working with farmers to ensure customers have access to a wide range of fresh produce.
“In the meantime, some stores are introducing temporary limits on the number of products customers can purchase to ensure availability for all.”
Over the past three to four weeks, Moroccan producers and suppliers have had to deal with cold weather, heavy rains, floods and ferry cancellations. All of this has affected the amount of fruit and vegetables reaching the UK.
Supply from Spain, the UK’s other major source of winter supply, is also heavily affected by the weather.
These were exacerbated by ferry cancellations due to bad weather, impacting truck deliveries.
“We can’t control the weather in Spain,” Coffey told delegations at a National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference on Wednesday when he was confronted with news that supermarkets were restricting the sale of fruits and vegetables.
However, the NFU said some local growers have had to reduce their use of greenhouses due to rising electricity prices.
Unions called on the government to increase support for energy consumers such as tomato and salad growers.
NFU president Minette Batters criticized the fact that while botanic gardens are supported by the greenhouse energy bill, food producers with greenhouses are not.
The main opposition Labor Party also said the shortage was not just due to the weather, but also to energy prices and labor shortages.
Labor’s shadow environment secretary, Jim McMahon, said on Thursday that there was “genuine public concern about food availability”.
He said ministers could have done more to help farmers with access to “energy-intensive assistance schemes” and could have increased quotas for overseas workers. rice field.
UK tomato season ‘coming soon’
With temperatures expected to rise, consumers are reassured that they can expect “a good deal” of British tomatoes on supermarket shelves by the end of March.
The British Tomato Growers Association (BTGA) said on Thursday that the shortage was largely due to a shortage of imported goods, although the local growing season is due to start soon.
BTGA said in a statement:
“This is largely due to a shortage of imported products at this time of year, but with the UK season starting soon, we expect a significant amount of UK tomatoes to hit shelves from the end of March to April 2023. will be
“The UK tomato season runs from the end of March to November each year.”
PA Media contributed to this report.