Spain's adverse weather causes shortage of peppers in the UK

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Spain's adverse weather causes shortage of peppers in the UK
A photograph taken on February 24, 2023, shows a few peppers among empty shelves at a Sainsbury supermarket in east London. - Some UK supermarkets have introduced limits on customer purchases of some fruit and vegetables due to "sourcing challenges" blamed on weather conditions in southern Europe and north Africa, the industry said February 21, 2023. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

The lack of fresh fruit and vegetables on supermarket shelves in the UK has been noticeable since February, and it looks likes peppers will be in particular short supply in British supermarkets due to bad weather in Spain.


Many believed that the fruit and vegetable shortage in the UK was down to Brexit, and while it does play a part, experts have clarified that the problems are also down to the unfavourable weather conditions in Spain, where the UK buys much of this type of fresh produce from.

Much of Spain is in the midst of a drought that has been affecting parts of the country since last year and many regions have seen very little rain this spring, typically one of the wettest seasons in the country. The situation is particularly bad in Catalonia, down along the Mediterranean coast and into Andalusia.

READ ALSO: Has Spain's weather really caused fresh food shortages in UK supermarkets?

Recent weather patterns in Spain have been prone to extremes, as the lack of rain was preceded by periods of extreme cold weather and heavy rain which have contributed to crop destruction.

The adverse weather has also affected the area of Almería, where over 30,000 hectares are given over to growing fruit and veg, giving it the nickname 'the orchard of Europe' (la huerta de Europa). It is the world's second-biggest crop-growing area and supplies much of the continent.

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"Irreversible damage has been done to more than 3.5 million hectares of crops," the main Spanish farmers' association COAG has revealed, estimating 60 percent of the country's farmland is "asphyxiated" by the lack of precipitation.

As a result, many farmers have simply decided not to plant crops this spring due to the lack of water.

Now the country is bracing for a heatwave in April. Spain’s State Metrological Agency AEMET has predicted that this will continue and temperatures are expected to be 15-20C higher than the average in some areas.

With such unpredictable and extreme weather, it's no surprise that the supply of Spanish fruit and vegetables to the UK will continue to be curtailed.

In February, there was a shortage of lettuce and tomatoes in particular, which affected supermarkets in the UK and lasted until well into March.

Both Morrisons and Asda limited the sale of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflowers and raspberries to two or three items or trays per shopper. 

This month, peppers will be in particularly short supply, which is being blamed this time not on the heat, but on the cold snap that Spain experienced in February, along with the lack of rain.

As a result, Morrisons is rationing pepper sales to two per customer, with Tesco, Waitrose and Aldi supermarkets in the UK limiting sales as well.

Waitrose has said it expects supplies of its full range of peppers to return in the next weeks when more UK-grown vegetables become available.

"Difficult weather conditions in the South of Europe disrupted harvest for some fruit and vegetables including peppers," Andrew Opie, Director of Food and Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium said in response.

"A few stores have implemented temporary limits on how much customers can buy to ensure availability for everyone. However, availability should improve for those impacted in the coming weeks as we enter UK growing season."

According to the Lea Valley Growers Association, one of the country’s biggest groups of food producers, fruit and veg shortages in the UK could last until May.

Spanish newspapers also reported some shortages of red peppers in March, as this variety are simply ripened green peppers, and the lack of sun and heavy rain in Spain in February meant they didn't have a time to mature properly. The scarcity has seen been resolved and was nowhere near as widespread as in the United Kingdom.


The National Union of British Farmers has also pointed out that the UK's dependence on imported food leaves them at the mercy of the European weather.

As the UK has been left out of the European common market, it now has to get in line to buy food from the EU, and many third countries already had prior agreements with the EU, such as Morocco.

Difficulties recruiting migrant workers and bad weather in the United Kingdom have also affected local agricultural production.


Climatological setbacks and Brexit have only been made worse by the economic situation, with inflation making everything more and more expensive.

While in Spain food inflation was 16.6 percent year-on-year in March, in the UK it reached 19.1 percent, the highest in 46 years.

READ ALSO: Food prices in Spain rise 16 percent despite VAT cut

The UK government had promised to reduce the rate of inflation by half by January 2024, but data suggests that prices continue to rise by more than 10 percent year-on-year.

If the weather in Spain continues the way it has been and it rain does not fall soon, the situation on UK supermarket shelves is only set to get worse. 


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