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Walter Goesten: “Retail not responding!”

Europe gripped by sky-high vegetable prices

There is currently a very scarce supply of vegetables, and prices are sky-high. Due to the cold in southern countries, and minimal supply in Belgium and the Netherlands, various vegetable shelves in supermarkets are bare. Today, we received an update from Spain and other European countries about this bizarre situation.

Murcia most important supplier
Murcia recently had the heaviest rainfall in 30 years, and it is the most important supplier of vegetables for Europe in the winter. Now that Spain and Italy cannot supply much, Morocco is also looked at. However, they also do not have enough supply to meet demand. The UK even imports lettuce from the US. Philippe Binard from Freshfel told the BBC that the vegetable sector is currently scourged by unprecedented problems. “The yields of courgette, aubergine, tomatoes, broccoli and bell peppers have decreased by about 25 per cent, while price rises vary between 25 and 40 per cent.” Especially courgettes are having a hard time, it is even being called a courgette crisis, the hashtag #courgettecrisis has even started appearing on social media.

Spanish vegetables - courgettes at 24 euro
A Belgian importer of Spanish vegetables says: “Volumes of courgettes are very limited, and that is not just because of the cold, but also with the New Delhi virus. We were already receiving very little, and now it is even less. On Monday, this reached a record price of 24 euro per crate, and that is still the case. Per kilogram it is almost five euro. Aubergines are selling at between 22 and 24 euro per crate. Cucumbers are sold for 8 to 9 euro, and bell pepper prices are also sky-rocketing. Red is at 14, green at 9.50 and yellow at 16 euro.” The importer does not expect prices to increase much further. “I do not think so, for sales have already decreased considerably,” he indicates. “Eventually consumers will become less interested.”

It is already snowing in Murcia. Cultivators are quickly bringing their broccoli harvest inside. Photo: Twitter.

Spain expects snow today
The shortage continues to increase in Spain. “It is true we do not have much lettuce at the moment, so we are working very hard to meet our obligations as much as possible,” says a manager of a cultivation company from Murcia. “What with all the rain, we now do not have much available. Moreover, they even expect snow today, that is extreme. It is already snowing in Murcia at the moment.”

Spain - "looks like a famine"
Stephan van Marrewijk from the Spanish company Vicasol says that prices have increased enormously in a very short time. “I heard someone say that it almost looks like famine. We also have wintry temperatures in the morning. At some places temperatures are around freezing. That hinders growth and maturing of the vegetables in greenhouses. Other producing countries are also bothered by the weather, so that there is too little product in Europe. I expect this situation to last a while longer, although much less will be sold in shops if these prices are also carried through to consumers.”

Walter Goesten: Retail is not responding!
Walter Goesten, owner of Harrie Goesten, indicates that Murcia is already covered by a thick layer of snow. Walter indicates he is disappointed by retailers. “They do not respond to the market situation, meaning supply and demand, of the product. Spain has so little product available, and the customers are not very understanding. My customers understand, but supermarkets appear not to. In certain supermarkets prices are not increasing at all, they maintain their low prices. Courgettes at Spanish auctions are selling around 20 euro for 14 courgettes. Dutch supermarkets then sell them between 1.09 and 1.19 euro. It is inconceivable! The situation in Spain will definitely last for a few more weeks. There truly are very few vegetables, we do not know where to get them from. We are called by Canada, for example. They offered my iceberg lettuce for 48 euro, for a box of 18 heads of lettuce, those are the kinds of practices now happening.” He gives another extreme example of the low retail prices: “Currently, market prices for iceberg lettuce are between 17.50 and 20 euro per ten heads. They are selling in shops for 99 cent.”

Packing station Teresa Hermanos from Goesten. Photo: Goesten

Bizarre: within several hours a thick layer of snow in Spain. Photo: Goesten

The Netherlands - expensive vegetables
ZON fruit & vegetables see the prices at auction increasing, and more attention is being paid to products at auction. “We do not have our own cultivators in Spain, and auction small amounts here because local wholesaler markets also want to buy products in the winter. We do auction some Spanish product, and we see considerable prices here at the auction. Supply from Spain and Morocco is disappointing, because it has been bad in those cultivation areas as well. Courgettes are expensive, and so are other greenhouse vegetables. Bell peppers are selling for 2 to 3 euro, and cucumbers are also fetching good prices. You can tell the market is somewhat panicked.”

Belgium - Lamb’s lettuce at 18 euro
According to one Belgian trader, most vegetables are still expensive. “Lamb’s lettuce went from 20 to 18 euro, but that is still a very high price. Spinach also increased further, and is currently at 5.80 per kilogram. Tomatoes and vine tomatoes are selling at 2.40 per kilogram, and butterhead lettuce is selling at 70 cents per head. Lollo Bionda is 1.50 and Lollo Rossa is 1.35 per head. Cucumbers are available through the REO Veiling in small volumes. The price for 350 grammes of cucumber is 66 cent, and 300 grammes is 28 cent.”

Spain - courgette suffers most
Willem van Rooij from importer Hispalco indicates that all vegetables are suffering due to the cold and freezing weather. “Yet courgette is suffering the most. Additionally, aubergines and cucumbers are also in trouble. Many cultivators have to throw out small plants, that were growing small cucumbers and courgettes, because of the cold. The plants are just not maturing properly. Bell peppers, for example, are slightly better at dealing with the cold, but many are variegated. They are now only half red or half yellow and green. The cultivators are coming up with many things in order to save their production. In the photograph pictured below a cultivator uses newspapers to protect the plants against dew that falls on them because of the condensation of the plastic.” He indicates that all local cultivators send their vegetables to the auction. “At least that way they are paid within ten days, and they will receive a correct market price for their product. They do not take any risks by working on commission for the export.”

Cultivators are coming up with all sorts of things to save their production.

UK - situation could last months
Jordi Vorderman, UK sales manager for Valstar, told The Guardian that courgette prices have quadrupled since the summer. “The most important problems are the cold nights in Spain and Italy. That has had much influence on the courgette production. And not just the price of those vegetables are high, bell peppers, aubergines and tomatoes are also selling at high prices.” Colin Putt, sales manager for Total Produce, warns that the vegetable shortages could last for months. “It could take a while before the fields in Spain have recovered from the cold weather. I have never seen it like this, this situation with multiple vegetables. The majority of Spanish products we receive are expensive.”

Nick Matthews of @totalbristol tweets they are guarding their courgettes: I'm not saying #courgettes are in short supply but we've had to put security on ours today!! #courgettecrisis 

UK - lettuce imports from US
The manager from Nationwide Produce, Tim O’Malley, told the BBC that the situation was so bad, they even had to import lettuce from the US. That almost never happens. Italy, which is normally self-supporting and even exports around this time of year, now has to import vegetables. That situation is also practically unprecedented. According to Tim, it is a difficult situation for the UK: “We import about half our vegetables and 90 per cent of our fruit.”

British making fun of the courgette crisis
Moreover, the courgette crisis is becoming the latest internet joke among British consumers. The panic among foodies and people who have ‘eating healthy’ as their resolution are being significantly mocked. Courgetti (thinly sliced courgette) is, after all, a popular, low-carb alternative for pasta, and spinach is still being used in smoothies quite often. “Dieting ruined by vegetable shortage,” published tabloid The Mirror. Tesco has already admitted it is dealing with shortages, but assures us they will solve it as soon as possible. Sainsbury also tweets that they hope to soon have vegetables on the shelves again.

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