By Caroline Fouvet
Food rationing has hit UK supermarkets, as bad weather affected much of southern Europe, leading to shortages of certain lines of fruit and vegetables. Customers were faced with empty shelves, and requests for broccoli, iceberg lettuce and courgettes were often made in vain. On Twitter, the hashtag #CourgetteCrisis was trending last week, as customers struggled to come to terms with the lack fresh vegetables, all year round.
— Jasmine Rahman (@missjrah) January 24, 2017
Many of the supply problems can be traced back to a series of unusual weather events affecting Spain. Spain accounts for 25% of the UK’s fresh produce imports but pre-Christmas floods and cold weather, together with heavy snow episodes hit the south-eastern coast, devastating crops in the region. The Murcia area, where most of the Spanish lettuce is produced, was one of the worst hit zones. In winter the region supplies 80% of Europe’s fresh produce however, after suffering its heaviest rainfall in 30 years, only a third of Murcia’s vegetable crop is useable.
Other countries in Europe, notably Italy, are also being forced to unexpectedly import vegetables due to poor growing conditions, increasing competition for Spanish produce and putting further pressure on supplies. The product shortages provide a clear example of weather disruptions have a direct impact on UK consumers.
Speaking to the BBC, vegetable seller Mark Gregory said: “Whereas normally courgettes are £6 or £7 [a crate], they’re now 20-22 quid and we’re struggling to get them.” Within days vegetable prices soared. Price rises were also seen in major retailers; the supermarket chain Lidl, for example, was forced to almost treble the price of its lettuces, which rose to £1.19 from £0.42.
While climate change may not be directly linked to the difficult conditions Spain has been experiencing in recent months, these supply shortages give a clear indication of the types of impacts that climate disruption can cause to vulnerable supply chains.