Vegetable shortage hits UK supermarkets

British supermarkets are rationing iceberg lettuces and other vegetables (AFP)
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British supermarkets are rationing iceberg lettuces and other vegetables (AFP)

Sales of broccoli and iceberg lettuce were being rationed by British supermarket giants Tesco and Morrisons on Friday due to widespread shortages caused by bad weather in southern Europe.

Shoppers vented their frustration and the government said it was monitoring the situation after weeks of scarce supplies of broccoli, aubergines and salads that have angered healthy eaters nationwide.

“Sorry: Temporarily Out of Stock”, read a sign on the lettuce shelf in a branch of Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket chain, near St Paul’s Cathedral.

“Due to bad weather conditions in Spain, we are experiencing some availability issues, but are working with our suppliers to resolve them as quickly as possible,” a Tesco spokesman told AFP.

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“To make sure customers don’t miss out, we are asking them to limit the number of iceberg lettuces they buy to three,” he said.

Morrisons, the fourth largest food retailer, said it too was imposing limits of three heads of broccoli and two iceberg lettuces per shopper.

“We have seen some bulk buying in our stores,” a spokesman said.

“We have therefore had a cap on sales of broccoli and iceberg lettuce to ensure we maintain good supplies for our regular customers,” he said.

At a Morrisons outlet in south London, one frustrated morning shopper, who declined to give her name, said vegetables were already almost out of stock.

She said the few courgettes that were available were too expensive at £3.53 (4.1 euros, $4.4) per kilo.

“I ain’t paying that price!” she said.

Prices have risen sharply in recent weeks as supermarkets have resorted to bringing in vegetables from further afield, including the United States.

Asked about the shortages at a daily briefing in Westminster, Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said: “Clearly supermarkets are working hard to rectify any sort of supply chain problems”.

The agriculture ministry “is monitoring the situation,” he said.

Asked if May was personally concerned, he quipped: “I’ve not actually spoken to the prime minister about her vegetable buying habits this morning”.

Shoppers went online to vent their anger, using hashtags including #courgettecrisis and #lettucecrisis, while some younger consumers retorted that a vegetable shortage was no crisis at all.

The Times and Guardian newspapers quipped that the rationing was only “the tip of the iceberg”.

The Daily Mash, a satirical blog, joked: “Curry houses face shortage of limp salad for you to ignore”.

Southern Spain was hit by heavy rain in December and a particularly cold spell in January including snow, cutting fruit and vegetable production this year.

Spain is the biggest producer and exporter of fruit and vegetables in the European Union.

Britain and France are its two biggest export markets.

“Contrary to popular belief it seems the rain in Spain doesn’t fall mainly on the plain and a run of unusually bad weather has resulted in availability issues,” said a spokesman for Asda, another large retailer.