Why the UK is Facing a Tomato Shortage in 2023

Why the UK is Facing a Tomato Shortage in 2023

Despite their best efforts, Moroccan and Spanish tomato producers yielded less crops than usual this year thanks to cold temperatures, a lack of sunlight, heavy rain and flooding.

From turkey and Topo Chico, to coffee and baby formula, last year saw its fair share of food shortages, supplies for some of which are only now beginning to be replenished. Unfortunately, the new year has brought with it a new set of food supply chain challenges, including the most recent tomato shortage in the UK. 

As with any food shortage, the rare supply that remains on grocery shelves has shot up in price. According to the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS), tomato prices reached £2.96 per kilogram (US$ 3.53) in January 2023, up 22.3 percent since the same time last year. 

As a result, pictures have been circulating of empty produce shelves, and foodservice businesses have had to settle for reduced deliveries as wholesalers try to spread out the limited supply. For some restaurants, this has meant tomato-less pizzas and salads, and some grocery stores have introduced a temporary limit for purchases of tomatoes.

Since no food shortage occurs at random, here are some causes of the UK’s tomato shortage.

Related: Why Is There an Egg Shortage in the US and Around the World?

Poor Weather = Fewer Crops

In Morocco — one of the UK’s leading tomato producers — growers and suppliers have had to contend with cold temperatures, a lack of sunlight, heavy rain, flooding and canceled ferries over the past month, all of which have seriously affected the volume of tomatoes reaching the UK. 

According to two Moroccan associations of vegetable producers, exporters and packers, Apefel and Amcom, the growing season in Morocco has been marked by a long period of cold, which was followed by abnormally high temperatures. As a consequence, the daily tomato harvest dropped sharply, resulting in shortening the supply capacity of packing stations and provisions of the local Moroccan market, as well as markets abroad.

Tomato supply from the UK’s other major exporter, Spain, has also been affected by fluctuating, unpredictable weather. Tomato volumes from Almeria, Spain were down 22 percent in February 2023 compared to the same time last year, according to Fruitnet.

The UK is particularly reliant on both Spain and Morocco, which earlier this month barred exports of tomatoes, onions and potatoes to West African countries to reduce domestic prices and protect exports to Europe. 

High Energy Costs

The tomato shortage is also exacerbated by less winter production in greenhouses in the UK and elsewhere due to high energy costs. Many growers did not start the crops in the fall due to rising electricity costs that made it commercially unviable.

Both the Lea Valley Growers Association and Flynn’s Tomatoes — two of the top tomato producers in Britain and Ireland, respectively — delayed planting crops this year because they could not afford to heat their greenhouses. 

Energy-intensive industries, including tomato production, have seen their energy costs soar over the past year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine sparked a rally in energy commodities and power prices. But despite some government support, high energy costs could continue to threaten UK tomato producers.

While unstable weather in Morocco and Spain and high energy prices in the UK bear the brunt of blame for the tomato shortage, other factors include fluctuating labor costs and shortages, British supermarkets habitually underpaying their suppliers and anecdotally, Brexit. 

However, there are reasons to be optimistic. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that it predicts that the tomato shortage will only last a few weeks until the UK growing season begins and supermarkets find alternative sources of supply, according to the BBC.