Lettuce be thankful: UK salad fills the gap after Spanish vegetable crisis

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 May, 2017, 7:46pm
UPDATED : Monday, 01 May, 2017, 10:39pm

British-grown iceberg lettuces and other salad ingredients will reappear on supermarket shelves this week – many at bargain prices – ending the vegetable “crisis” triggered by the washout Spanish weather .

Tesco and Morrisons are among retailers to offer UK icebergs for just 50 pence – down from a typical supermarket range of between 70p and 75p for US- and Spanish-imported products. The price peaked at £1.19 (HKD$11.95) among some retailers at the height of winter shortages.

The UK salad season usually kicks off in mid-May but, thanks to a mild winter and recent warm weather, crops are being harvested earlier than usual. Shoppers can look forward to an early bounty of UK-grown salad leaves and radishes in addition to English-grown asparagus and Jersey royal potatoes.

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UK shoppers faced shortages of courgettes in January when a continental cold and wet snap hit supplies at a time of peak demand from consumers keen to pursue their new year resolutions to eat more greens.

Other produce, including aubergines, celery, green beans, lettuces and tomatoes were also affected, and as prices rocketed some supermarkets were forced to impose rationing to even out supply.

Spanish-grown courgettes are still on supermarket shelves but will gradually be replaced by British ones towards the end of the month, followed by home-grown celery.

“This winter, the rains in Spain were quite a pain, as they caused floods that destroyed many of the crops,” said Georgina Reid, Tesco’s buying manager for chilled salads. “Now that our British suppliers are ready to send us their lettuces we will be able to reduce the price for customers as we lessen our reliance on the Spanish supply.”

This winter, the rains in Spain were quite a pain, as they caused floods that destroyed many of the crops
Georgina Reid, Tesco

Morrisons is cutting the price of iceberg lettuces to 50p from 75p, and salad tomatoes to 60p from 68p. Early British tomatoes and cucumbers already in store are supplemented with varieties from the continent, particularly Spain and the Netherlands.

Andy Atkinson, Morrisons’ customer and marketing director, said: “It may feel chilly and wet this weekend but better weather is coming, so it’s the right time to crunch prices that help customers to picnic this summer.”

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Sainsbury’s is selling the UK’s first harvest of British radishes, 10 days ahead of schedule, with bunched radishes (with peppery edible leaves as an alternative to rocket or lettuce) on the shelves this week. Typically the first British salad ingredient of the season, the radish season runs from April to October, with the traditional red globe-shaped Celesta variety the first to be ready for harvest.

“We’ve seen demand for radishes increase by 22 per cent in the past year as customers realise how versatile they are,” said Lily Peck, produce product technologist for Sainsbury’s. “A few fresh radishes make a delicious crunchy snack or crudité, and their distinctive pinky-red hue adds an Instagram-worthy pop of colour to summer salads.”

Waitrose has committed to growing British salad leaves all year round as part of its support for UK farming and to reduce dependence upon imports. Its new greenhouse growing system – which it says is a UK first and has been in development since 2014 – allowed it to start selling a UK-grown salad bag in February, three months earlier than the usual May-October season.