Driffield NewsNEWS

Salad shortage to last six weeks – but not if you shop with small businesses

Driffield greengrocer Andy Rafter has reassured customers in Driffield and the Wolds that his shop will remain fully stocked despite his belief that the shortage of fresh produce in supermarkets could last for at least another six weeks.

Andy told the Wolds Weekly that although he is currently having to pay eye-wateringly high prices for fruit and vegetables from the wholesale market on a daily basis, Rafters will not be following in the footsteps of supermarkets such as Tesco and Lidl in limiting customer purchases on certain items due to supply issues.

On Wednesday 22nd February, Tesco, which has a store on George Street in Driffield, was the latest supermarket to introduce limits on sales of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers to three per customer. The limits apply to both loose fruit and vegetables and to produce sold in packs. Lidl announced similar measures.

The shortages are largely as a result of extreme winter weather in Spain and north Africa, which has affected harvests.

At this time of year, a large proportion of the fruit and vegetables eaten in the UK comes from those regions.

The remainder of the produce comes from British growers.

But, as Andy explained, a failure by the supermarkets to negotiate a deal with the domestic growers has left them at a disadvantage, hence the empty shelves.

Andy Rafter,

But it has helped greengrocers such as Rafters, who use UK wholesalers to source the majority of their stock.

“The shortages the supermarkets are experiencing are strictly down to the weather, said Andy.

“At the beginning of the growing seasons, the supermarkets will negotiate with the producers and they are so big and powerful that they can basically tell them what will happen.

“This is a time of year when 80 per cent of produce comes from abroad, but the supermarkets always like the British growers to fall back on, particularly if we have a mild winter.

“However, despite the increase in energy and labour costs, the supermarkets have made it very clear to the British growers that they are not prepared to pay any extra.

“Credit to the growers, they’ve said that they are not in a position to supply the supermarkets. In arrogance, the supermarkets have decided to get their produce from abroad and 99 times out of 100, that isn’t a problem.

“On this occasion, this winter has been the worst in living memory and the crops have failed, meaning the volumes are well down.

“The supermarkets are now at a major disadvantage because there isn’t enough produce and they aren’t prepared for what is there.

“The little bit of produce that has been available from abroad has gone into the wholesale markets, where we source our goods from.”

Rising energy and labour costs have seen wholesale prices rise substantially, with Andy paying prices that can often be up to 200 per cent higher than he did 12 months ago.

But the decision to keep the shelves fully stocked appears to have paid off for Rafters, with customers, old and new, showing their gratitude.

“The prices are high but we are at least managing to get the produce into the shop,” said Andy.

“We have never been without and you can tell some of the people coming into the shop are new customers because they don’t know where anything is.

“The empty shelves in the supermarkets have helped us. We had a decision to make as to whether we refused to pay the current prices or we keep the shelves full.

“We went for the latter and people seem grateful for that. Our customers need the produce and are willing to pay for it.

“It’s not a great business model, as we’re paying lots of money and for many of the items, we’re not even getting our money back.

“It’s not sustainable but hopefully we will ride it out and in the long-run everything will come right.”

The British Retail Consortium, which represents supermarkets, has said it expects the shortages to last ‘a few weeks’ until the growing season begins or shops find other ways of overcoming the issues.

Others have said the prices may continue to rise over the next few weeks, at a time when food prices in the UK are already increasing at their fastest rate for nearly 50 years.

Forecasters are predicting a ‘Beast from the East’-style spell of weather could be on the way, which Andy said would extend the shortages.

“It takes six weeks from planting a cucumber plant to it becoming a cucumber,” he said.

“Ordinarily, we would be seeing cucumbers around this time of year because the heaters will have been switched on after Christmas.

“But as a result of the energy costs, the growers are just starting to plant, so this is likely to go on for another six weeks or so.

“That’s providing the weather is fairly mild. If we get the Beast from the East for a fortnight, or the days are overcast, it could be longer.

“As we head towards spring, the situation will get better as more British produce will become available and we aren’t as reliant on the continent.”

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