The shortages of lettuce and other leafy vegetables in several British supermarkets have been the result of a "wrong commercial strategy" on the part of distribution chains, according to the director of the Association of Producers-Exporters of Fruits and Vegetables of Murcia (Proexport), Fernando Gómez .
Gómez made this comment following the release of information by The Sun newspaper, which shows empty vegetable shelves at a Sainsbury's supermarket next to a full shelf at a Mercadona in Murcia; the region which, according to this newspaper, produces nine out of every ten lettuces consumed in the United Kingdom.
The text, published on 4 February with the title "Spanish supermarkets hoard fruits and vegetables while British consumers are rationed", explains how the English have been showing signs of panic buying and chains like Tesco and Morrisons have limited the Purchase of leafy vegetables.
According to the director of Proexport, "some British supermarkets have not wanted to pay the price at origin that the vegetables had reached after the reduction of the supply in Europe due to the cold wave of January, which caused massive damage to crops in Italy and Greece."
Horticultural campaign at 70%
According to estimates, Murcia now has 70% of the volume of a normal campaign when it comes to lettuce and other leafy vegetables, such as endives, and it is not only facing the domestic demand, but also that of the customers of Italy and Greece.
"There are supermarkets in the United Kingdom which do have leaf products, and there has also been no shortage of lettuce in Germany or France," he assured, not without showing his anger at the release of this information which, he warned, "should not be given any attention."
Gómez has criticised the use of iceberg lettuce by some British stores as a promotional product sold below cost, referring to the photo taken at a Sainsbury's store, where you see retail prices of 50 pence (0.59 Euro/unit), when at origin they reached about 1.5 Euro/unit a few days ago.
"Some distribution chains have not wanted to pay the price at origin and the British consumer has not been given the chance to buy that product," he stated.
Perishable products that are not stored
The president of the Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives of Murcia (Fecoam), Santiago Martínez, described this newspaper article as "nonsense", since vegetables, and especially leafy vegetables, such as lettuce "are perishable products with a shelf life of two or three days and cannot be retained or stored."
"How are we going to be hoarding the vegetables to prevent them from eating them?" asked Martinez, who recalled that "almost the entire lettuce production, which won't be back to normal levels for several weeks, is traditionally shipped to the international markets, which is where the most profit is to be made."
British chains stopped their horticultural orders
Asaja's vegetable sector manager, Francisco Vargas, confirmed yesterday that "the orders from some British distribution chains, which a few days ago decided to curb their demand in order to bring prices down, are now being reactivated."
On 3 February, Asaja asked the Food Information and Control Agency (AICA) to investigate why the prices of some vegetables, such as courgettes or aubergines, had plummeted by around 60% in recent days, despite the fact that the supply was still lower because of the cold wave.
Vargas has estimated the reduction in the courgette and aubergine production in Almeria at about 75%, while that of tomatoes has fallen by 50% and that of green peppers by 30%.
The drop in the price, which was mainly observed after 24 January, has coincided in time with the "halt in the orders from some "distribution chains operating in other "European countries," he warned.