The British season can't come soon enough for cash-strapped shoppers as imported fresh produce prices continue to rise. Michael Barker reports

Fresh produce lovers may have to wait for British crops to come into season before the price of key staples starts to come down.

The cost of items such as carrots, broccoli and cucumbers has risen significantly over the last month, and producers are warning further price inflation could follow until British crops come into season.

A basket of 12 common lines was up 5.7% in February compared with the month before, and 21.9% on the same time last year.

Carrots were one of the biggest risers, with a 10.5% increase to 86p per kilo, as there was insufficient produce to meet growing demand.

The domestic carrot supply was stunted by a lack of sunshine last summer and a wet autumn, leading to a crop 15% below usual levels, according to British Carrot Growers' Association chairman Martin Evans.

A volume sales uplift of up to 5% during the cold winter compounded the shortage and prices would have been even higher had retailers not introduced value lines to keep inflation down, Evans said.

And there was more bad news as the lack of British produce meant more expensive, imported carrots would have to be brought in, he added. "Things are going to get chaotic on carrots," he said. "It'll mean high cost, mediocre quality carrots will come in from places such as Spain, France, Israel and even Lithuania. It'll be an inconsistent offer for the six weeks from the end of April until the new British crops are available."

Broccoli, which also rose 4.5% in price in February, was a victim of the poor Spanish growing season, explained Heather Briggs, business development manager at Market Intelligence Services. With only limited British availability, and the rest imported from Spain, Morocco and Kenya, it could be June - the start of the main British season - before prices stabilised, she added.

Cucumber prices rose dramatically for the second month in a row as a result of cold weather decimating crops in Spain. The price of a whole cucumber rose 29.1% to £1.28, with the product now almost double the 68p it cost last year.

However, it is expected that the price will fall back next month as British crops come on stream to fill the shortfall. The first cucumbers from the Thanet Earth glasshouse development went on sale this week and they will soon be joined by the mainstream British crop.

Elsewhere, white seedless grapes were up 26.9% month-on-month as a result of lower supplies being exported from South Africa. Tough growing conditions had resulted in a 20% lower crop, according to a grape industry source, while South Africans were also re-evaluating the profitability of supplying the UK market as more attractive prices were now being offered in continental Europe.

Although Chilean grapes were starting to hit the UK market, volumes were lower this year, the source added. The tight supply meant there were likely to be fewer grapes available to sell as value lines, he said.

Apples were one of the big fallers, with prices down 9.4% this month as retailers introduced cheaper lines, and 22.9% down on the same period last year.