Where's The Veg?

There’s a nationwide shortage of fruit and vegetables on supermarket shelves. The scarcity of produce like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers are even prompting some UK supermarkets to limit sales of certain items.

Empty supermarket shelves

Why is this happening? The reasons are as complex as they are wide-ranging: supply chain issues, unusual weather, soaring energy bills, the cost of living crisis, Brexit, and labour shortages. 

Different groups are calling out different factors. Some are pointing to rising energy costs, with growers unable to afford to heat their glasshouses. Others are pointing to post-Brexit woes, compounded by “difficult weather conditions” – such as unseasonably warm and cold climates in countries like Morocco and Spain, which supply significant numbers of fresh produce during the UK wintertime. 

“The biggest issue we now have as an industry is not inflation, it’s Mother Nature,” said Tim O’Malley, director of Nationwide Produce, pointing to extreme weather – from heat waves to freezing temperatures – as the culprit behind lower yields.

Is one problem more significant than the rest? “In truth, it’s all of these,” wrote food policy consultant Dayna Brackley. And in short, it’s a domino effect. 

HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?

Some growers are calling out British retailers for demanding to sell food at too low a price, even below the cost of production. Supermarkets, however, are reluctant to increase prices during an ongoing cost of living crisis.

Philip Person, director at APS Group, the UK’s largest tomato grower told The Guardian: “We couldn’t recover the costs at the retail level, because the retailers couldn’t recover it from the consumer, because the consumer was under pressure as well”. Pearson believes that the government, retailers and consumers all need to work together to support the domestic industry.

Others have been more direct about the government taking immediate action. “Our UK food resilience is currently gone. The government needs to take this seriously,” said David Exwood, VP of the National Farmers’ Union. 

It appears the Gov is making moves. Last month, heads of major supermarkets were summoned for “crisis talks”. Are we seeing some steps being taken towards an overhaul of the food system?

WHAT NEXT? 

The sight of bare shelves in our biggest supermarkets is a disconcerting one, to say the least. But here at Oddbox, we’re always looking for the upsides.

For starters, this situation is bringing awareness to important structural issues. It’s highlighting how the relationships between growers and major retailers function, and how interconnected all the problems – from a changing climate to rising production costs – truly are.

This has also been an opportunity for the “little guys”, from greengrocers to farmers market vendors (and veg box suppliers!), to step up. Independent shops around the country are doing “roaring trade”. “It’s been a blessing in disguise really,” said Karen Byrne, a Teesside greengrocer. “We’ve had more customers in because we have the supplies, so it’s working for us”. 

“This shortage means that people are going to learn not to waste food as much,” said fifth generation fruit seller Mark Robinson.

And that’s what we like to hear.

Oddbox Fruit and Vegetable box

FIGHT FOOD WASTE WITH A DELIVERY OF DELICIOUSLY ODD FRUIT & VEG.