No one in the business can miss the fact that the situation has become critical in Southern Europe and particularly, Spain and Italy.
There is a general shortage for most fresh products from these countries – a situation Sharrocks Fresh Produce are monitoring closely.
"The cold weather conditions and wet snap, followed by a greater demand in January, has caused turmoil to all customers & produce sectors across the UK and Europe," explains Wilf Whittle from the company.
"There is nowhere near enough volume to meet demand despite the best efforts from our growers and a lot of crops have suffered the consequences of the cold spell. Temperatures are now ranging between 6/7 degrees during the day and freezing at night in mainland Spain. It is also raining in the main growing areas of Murcia, Alicante and Valencia provinces - areas where they have recently had snow. It is proving difficult to assess the damage caused to the crops by the snow and to what extent."
Wilf said that there are people who have been in the industry for 40-50 years who have never seen anything like this before. "These days we have all the knowledge and technology at hand, but we just can't beat the weather."
He goes on the say that we just need to concentrate on the positives, "Our customer base has been very understanding. They have been willing to change their orders to what is readily available, our foodservice customers have asked their restaurants to change their menus to use the veg which we do have. This is a good thing, it will force people out of their comfort zone to try something new."
Wilf gives a short overview of the various products and how they are faring.
Extremely short. There is hardly any product available and prices have tripled due to their scarcity. Quality is generally ok.
The majority of our Spinach originates from Italy and Spain at this time of year. The availability will be really tight as our Italian and Spanish farms have no crops to harvest and the weather is not improving. They are roughly 80% down in Spinach crops to give you an idea of the shortage.
Other baby leaf mix and lettuces have been hit hard:
Lambs Tongue Lettuce
To name a few…
The main production in Murcia, Spain, is under snow. Most growers at this point have not even been able to cut. This has led to extraordinarily high prices that will keep escalating with very limited volume expected for arrivals next week. The quality is surprisingly good considering the weather and problems experienced!
There are low quantities of peppers readily available to supply. Generally, the quality is holding up fine under the circumstances. There is less volume of red peppers on offer, whilst yellow and orange are almost non-existent.
Green peppers volume is good in comparison to the other colours and they are helping us to meet the orders. Demand is high. The price levels are holding strong and it is likely to increase further next week.
Tomatoes - (Standard round, vine, beef and plum):
As predicted last week, the quantities are becoming tighter and with cooler conditions continuing across Spain during next week we will expect prices to become stronger.
Standard loose round quantity from the Canary Islands is also lower than usual. The quality of the plum is more inconsistent now as we are overlapping seasons, whilst beef is generally good in terms of condition but short in supply.
However, fruit is still coming through from the earlier crops and some are arriving with micro-cracking and alternaria issues which are difficult to identify at source whilst packing and only developing on transit. We are trying to eradicate these problems.
Due to lower temperatures (particularly during the night) they are picking fruit earlier to meet demand and we anticipate the fruit to be lighter in colour next week (a stage down in the process). As for vine tomatoes they are leaving it on the plant longer to achieve full uniform colouration. Quality is generally good but difficult for our growers.
Cherry tomatoes, cherry vine, baby plum and cocktail tomatoes:
There is nowhere enough volume in supply for all indicated lines above.
We are also close to the start of overlapping seasons but there will be lower volume departing, due to poor weather. Higher sugar brix levels on these lines also causes splits in the fruit and this cannot always be identified at source whilst packing.
Courgettes AKA Gold Dust:
As we all know this product is normally affected more by colder weather conditions than any other out of our portfolio. The volume is currently at the minimum levels of production and it is causing us one big headache. Prices have reached over £ 5.00 a kg this morning (Friday). However, the quality out of the very limited volume coming through is still good.
The plants have been slowing down quickly with the drastic change of weather. With cooler weather conditions the volume has decreased, and thus is influencing prices, which are once again shooting up. The quality is generally good from both Spain and the Canary Islands. Some isolated consignments may be suffering quality issues which are related to humidity levels in the nurseries between the ranges in temperature levels, particularly affecting more the older crops which are coming to an end with some micofarela evident after a few days of shelf life. This may only develop in transit despite how extra vigilant we are by selecting the product both on arrival as well as pre-dispatch.
Iceberg lettuce, Cos lettuce and Little Gem:
A high percentage of crops have been completely written off due to poor weather conditions in the main growing areas of Murcia following recent weather. It has caused more shortages and growers are struggling to recover.
Volume in general for all lines is going to become even shorter in supply and prices are predicted to jump. Some have started bringing air freight from the USA to try and meet demand and minimize the shortage. Obviously, the prices are well into double figures. Dry outside leaves and brown cut (frost bite) will be evident due to the cold temperatures.
The volume remains short. Overall quality looks OK and we are monitoring all arrivals closely.
The volume available to us is steady and with reasonable demand the prices are not moving. The production is naturally decreasing and the Verna variety is likely to be later and shorter in season compared to last year.