onions one use

Last year’s heatwave in Continental Europe continues to have an adverse effect on the cost of fruit and veg - with onions the latest to see wholesale prices skyrocket.

Prices have increased by about 60% year on year following declines in supply, and EU onion production for 2015/16 is forecast to be down 8% year on year to 5.45 million tonnes, says Mintec analyst Liliana Minton. The EU’s two biggest suppliers, Spain and the Netherlands, suffered a very hot, dry summer, and problems have been compounded by a wet growing season in the UK, which delayed our own onion harvest.

The European drought was especially hard on Spanish onions, which are popular with both shoppers and food processors for their good skin finish and diameter of at least 80mm. As a result of the weather, they were smaller than usual and prone to internal defects, with rotting from the inside as the result of heavy rainfall following the dry summer. “There is a shortage of large, good quality onions in Europe,” says Andrew Holding, chairman of British Onions.

Most retailers and packers will be protected from the inflated wholesale prices on the open market by contracts with suppliers that assure stock, and the bulk of the onions sold as fresh in the UK retail sector are the smaller home-grown varieties. But there is a challenge around “getting the big premium onions; the ones are sold in threes in a net bag” admits Holding. Many of the good Dutch onions would have already been exported further afield to countries such as South Africa, he adds.

The good news for businesses in need is that onions from New Zealand - typically large like the Spanish variety - will soon be available as the annual importing window from the southern hemisphere opens.