The Italian tomato canning industry is in meltdown due to a breakdown in the raw material supply chain.

Hot weather has caused an accelerated ripening of the fruit, creating a logistical nightmare for growers who need to transport their crops to the canners in a matter of hours.

Supplies of totes, used for carrying the tomatoes, have run out and lorries laden with product are unable to make the 600km round trip in time to move the vast tonnage held on farm by growers.

A spokesman for one large grower in the Puglia district said: “It’s chaos. Spoilage will be inevitable. Although we have had some overnight rain, which will help, we cannot recover the late crop which means canners ceasing production shortly”.

UK importers expect the total crop to be less
than 5 million tonnes compared with a forecast of 6.5 million tonnes. This follows a disastrous harvest of just 4.2 million tonnes in 2002.

Prices will be announced shortly, although there are already unconfirmed reports of early deals having been done.