Over the past few weeks, fresh produce shortages have hit major UK grocers fuelling grocery inflation to an all-time high.
The shortage has been caused by a mix of poor weather for suppliers in Spain and Morocco and reduced domestic produce due to the ongoing energy crisis.
It comes amid an ongoing egg shortage, brought about by suppliers reducing stock to account for higher energy costs, with the same problems affecting UK glasshouse produce.
Growing costs of fruit and vegetables are likely to affect households on low incomes disproportionately, with cost-saving grocers like Lidl and Aldi being the worst affected by the import shortage.
Lidl, Aldi, and other major UK grocers including Morrisons and Tesco have introduced purchase limits on the number of units of fresh produce per customer.
In a statement on Wednesday, Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU) demanded that British horticulture have the “full support of the government” for a national security plan for British growers.
“The consequences of undervaluing growers can be seen on supermarket shelves right now – without urgent action there are real risks that empty shelves may become more commonplace,” Batters stated in an address to the NFU.
Her announcement comes only a week after the Minister for the environment, Therese Coffey, said people should “be eating turnips right now rather than thinking about aspects of lettuce and tomatoes.”
Coffey’s statement sparked outrage from farmers, who claim the minister fails to take the food shortage seriously.
The shortage highlights the UK’s reliance on imports and has strengthened the NFU’s resolve in demanding the government guarantee UK horticultural security.
However, some farmers have pointed out that domestic produce is nowhere near strong enough to compensate for an import shortfall.
A sharp drop in domestic produce over winter has hit UK farmers, with many citing the energy crisis, Brexit, and a reduced workforce as causes for the shortfall.
The resulting pressure on UK growers has pushed grocery inflation to an all-time high of 17.1 per cent.
While the NFU has been putting pressure on Westminster to provide greater domestic security for growers, the government has also requested that grocers re-evaluate their relationship with farmers.
“I have also asked them to look again at how they work with our farmers and how they buy fruit and vegetables,” Food and Farming Minister Mark Spencer stated on Monday.
Coffey said the crisis could last as long as a month, and the effect on food costs could severely affect households struggling in the cost-of-living crisis.
Image via Tom Harrington