Friday, 21 Jun 2024

French veg prices dramatically higher than UK but shelves are stocked

Food shortages: Supermarkets to limit shoppers

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Shoppers looking to buy fruit and vegetables in the past week have faced barren shelves across the country. Poor weather in exporter countries has been blamed, but the UK’s European neighbours – many of which pay higher prices than Britons – are not suffering. What are France and the EU doing that the UK isn’t?

Over the past week, social media has been awash with photos of empty cartons in the fresh produce aisles of British supermarkets, salad crops being the most affected.

The UK grows plenty of these crops in greenhouses, but rising energy costs have dragged production costs to too high a price for many farmers. Some have already gone out of business, while others have opted to delay planting until the weather warms up.

Lee Stiles, secretary of Lea Valley Growers Association (LVGA) told ITV News yesterday: “The supermarkets decided not to pay the cost of production price for British growers and instead decided to import more cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers from overseas.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, professor of crop science at Harper Adams Jim Monahan said: “At this time of year, most of our crop will be coming from Almeria, in the southeast of Spain, and also over the straits of Gibraltar into Morocco.”

After an unseasonably warm December and freezing temperatures over the past few weeks, these flowers haven’t been able to grow.

Professor Monahan added: “No farmer can grow crops at a lost and if their costs of production, out of their control, have increased significantly they need to see that return or we won’t have those crops there for us when imports become difficult.”

Despite France boasting the largest agricultural sector in Europe, the French have long paid a higher average price for their food than their counterparts across the Channel.

According to cost-of-living database Numbeo’s latest figures, the cost of a month’s worth of food for one person in France is €337.99 (£297.81). The same basket in the UK costs just £188.18 – over a third less.

In January 2023, the average price of a kilo of tomatoes in France was €3.89 (£3.43), according to the French statistics bureau, INSEE. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) puts the comparable retail price in the UK at £2.96.

As of February, leading French supermarket chain Carrefour sells cucumbers at €1.89 (£1.67) a piece. Brits can pick one up in Tesco for just £0.75.

READ MORE: Lidl, Aldi and Tesco recall popular foods – full list

France has not been spared from the pressures that have caused the cost-of-living crisis, as overall inflation remained at a relatively high seven percent in January.

With an electricity supply more insulated from the shocks to oil and gas markets, food price inflation has been even more of a driver of the headline rate than in the UK.

The INSEE notes store prices in France rose 13.2 percent in the year to January, leaving shopping costs higher than ever. In a note published February 7, the agency said food was likely to remain the main contributor towards inflation until mid-2023.

In a recent interview with France Info, president of farming union FNSEA said prices remained high due to an “explosion” in farming costs that was not fully absorbed in 2022.

Last year, a bid by French supermarkets to suspend the rule dictating they sell products at a profit of at least ten percent to guarantee adequate returns for farmers was rejected. They claimed the measure had cost consumers €600million (£528million).

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Rising food prices in France are mirrored across Europe. According to the latest data from Eurostat, the price of vegetables has risen by 15 percent across the bloc in the 12 months to December.

The steepest rate among member states was the 37.7 percent recorded in Hungary – but this pales in comparison to EU neighbouring Turkey’s 87 percent.

The figure for France in terms of vegetables alone came in just below average at 12.8 percent, relative to 14.9 percent for Spain, 16.2 percent for Germany and 10.8 percent for Italy.

The lowest recorded rate in Europe was found in Switzerland (2.8 percent) – although food prices in the country have long been notoriously high due to a heavy reliance on costly domestic produce.

Some of the blame for the UK’s unique predicament has been laid on Brexit, especially among members of the public.

Twitter user Mark Davyd, who posted a photograph of empty shelves in a UK supermarket, said: “I don’t know who dreamt up the ‘food shortages in England are caused by bad weather in Europe’ nonsense but to be completely clear; we don’t have any food shortages in Europe. The shelves are heaving with fresh fruit and veg.”

UK importers have reportedly become increasingly reliant on Morocco following the EU withdrawal, which has made sourcing alternatives within Europe more difficult. Mr Stiles of the LVGA also spoke of “issues with the border at Calais”.

In a video shared this morning, Save British Farming chair Liz Webster said: “The reason that we have food shortages in Britain, and that we don’t have food shortages in Spain – or anywhere else in the European Union – is because of Brexit, and also because of this disastrous Conservative government that has no interest in food production, farming or even food supply.”

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