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Tomato Shortage Could Hit the UK as Heatwave Impacts Farmers in Spain and Italy

UK supermarkets could face another shortage of tomatoes and other fresh fruit and vegetables as the extreme heatwave in Europe affects growers in Spain and Italy.

Experts are warning that food production in southern Europe is being heavily impacted by the extreme heatwave, which has brought temperatures of up to 47°C to countries including Spain, Italy and Greece.

While the weather has been much milder in the UK, British consumers are likely to still see the impact when it comes to the supply of foods such as tomatoes and salad, which are exported to the UK from southern Europe in large volumes.

Supermarkets have access to some fresh fruit and vegetables from the UK and northern Europe in the summer months, but experts have also warned that a shortage in supply from Spain and Italy could drive up prices just as inflation was starting to ease in the UK.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents supermarkets, said the “extreme weather conditions” were putting supermarkets under “pressure” but that retailers are “working hard to limit price increases”.

Earlier this week, new data from the European Drought Observatory, an official body of the European Union, warned that almost half of the EU had entered a “severe” drought.

Agricultural supply analyst Cedric Porter told i Spain has been particularly affected by dry weather in recent months, which means its reservoirs were already “quite low” before the heatwave hit.

“So obviously this won’t help, because there will be so much demand on the water that is already there,” he said.

“These sort of temperatures are far too hot for crops to grow successfully … and they’re quite water intense,” Mr Porter said, adding that UK consumers would “probably see some pressure fairly soon in terms of not getting those crops”.

“We’re at the end of the line, especially now with Brexit, because if you’ve got supply in Spain it’s going to be easier to send it to Germany or Belgium than it will be to the UK.

“Even if we can get the crops inevitably it will lead to increases in prices of fruit and veg,” Mr Porter said.

Harry Campbell, analyst at Mintec, agreed tomato production in Italy and Spain is likely to be impacted by the current heatwave, however he said it is still too early to understand the full impact.

“Tomatoes in regions that are still flowering, mainly in Italy, could be affected as the plant is normally still quite fragile,” he said.

“In parts of Spain the tomato harvest has already begun and so there may be some harvesting difficulties in the heat, as fruit is more susceptible to damage when getting harvested in the heat,” he added.

The UK experienced a tomato shortage earlier this year after a cold snap in Spain resulted in empty shelves in British supermarkets.

The shortages of tomatoes and other fresh vegetables contributed to food inflation hitting a record high of 15 per cent in March this year.

While British supermarkets will have more access to locally grown tomatoes at this time of year, poor harvest in southern Europe still have a knock-on effect on British supermarkets.

Walter Zanre, chief executive of Filippo Berio UK, told The Grocer flooding in Italy earlier this year has already led to tomato crop volumes being down 15 per cent, a figure that is likely to get worse due to the heatwave.

He said the flooding has “already ensured that prices will increase”, driving up the cost of “pasta sauces, pizzas, ketchup and many other products” he said. 

Source : I News