3 Tomatoes at a Time: Why U.K. Supermarkets Are Limiting Vegetables

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Not really. Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union in 2020 has led to some higher costs, but is not to blame for the shortages, Spain’s agriculture minister, Luis Planas, told The Financial Times. Shortages of vegetables, including zucchinis, eggplants, lettuce and celery, also occurred in Britain before it left the bloc. A spell of bad weather in Spain in 2017 led British newspapers to refer to the period as a “courgette crisis.”

Tom Holder, a spokesman for the British Retail Consortium, a trade association, said Brexit had not exacerbated supply shortages, since British checks on food and fresh products imported from the European Union had not yet come into effect.

Britain may see Brexit-related issues in the summer, however, if the country continues to struggle to find seasonal workers to help harvest produce, he said. In a typical year, Britain imports about 95 percent of its tomatoes in March from abroad, compared with 40 percent in June, according to the British Retail Consortium.

While Brexit has created additional costs and administrative work for Spanish exporters to Britain, the value of Spanish exports to Britain has grown since Britain left the European Union.

The restrictions will likely last for just a few weeks, according to the British Retail Consortium. Fepex, the Spanish organization representing producers, said that an increase in temperatures in the next few weeks could improve the situation.

Joanna Blythman, the author of “Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets,” said that British supermarkets have not supported local producers, opting instead for less expensive suppliers abroad, whereas grocery stores in other European countries are more committed to buying local and regional products.

“What we’re reaping here is the results of letting the supermarkets be too powerful to the detriment of producers in this country, and it’s putting our food security at risk,” she said.