Brits holidaying at home are being offered some of the year's best-value salad produce as retailers offer deep promotions on key ingredients.
The average price of iceberg lettuce in the major multiples has fallen by almost a fifth over the past three months, to 73p each. Two-packs of Little Gems are also down by 9% compared with the end of July. The story is similar for other key salad staples such as cherry tomatoes, cucumber and celery down 6%, 8% and 27% respectively over the past quarter.
"The price drops have been driven by the usual summer promotions on salads, although they have been stronger than in previous years," said Charlie Kisby, leafy salads category manager at salads supplier Gs Marketing. "It's the time of year when people go on holiday abroad, so we see a drop in sales. We have managed to at least maintain volumes this summer."
Quality had been challenging this year because of the lack of rain early in the summer, he added, "but the quality of the produce going to stores has been alright".
The dry spell had also brought difficulties for potato suppliers, said Tim Pratt, Tesco's technical manager for potatoes and root crops. "The end of the old potato crop and the start of the new crop has been really challenging this year because of the drought," he said. "The supply of good-quality potatoes has been challenging and will continue to be so."
The shift in root vegetables from old to new season has triggered rises in potatoes, carrots and onions over the past three months, although they have stabilised in the past four weeks.
Retailers had been relying on long-term stores and imported onions, but prices should stabilise as UK produce is now hitting stores.
Average supermarket prices for imported Braeburn apples are up by 4% compared with three months ago, but down 3% on last month. Conference pears have risen 6% in the past month, to £1.64 a pack.
"The prices of apples and pears have steadied since early summer, when they were rising," said Adrian Barlow, chief executive of trade body English Apples & Pears. "Southern hemisphere producers supplied fewer apples into Europe as they were keen to avoid last year's issue of over-supply, which was caused by poor demand forecasting in Europe."
Barlow added that the UK crop was likely to be down on last year, although not by as much as the 11% shortfall expected in Europe. Apple prices were expected to stay at their current levels, but pears were set to rise as the European crop was down 19%, he said.
Meanwhile, fluctuations in world supplies of grapes have brought differing fortunes for the red and green varieties.
Promotions on green seedless grapes have brought the average price down by 13% to £3.58 per kg in the past month alone, currently making them more than a pound per kg cheaper than red grapes. However, supplies of red grapes are now back on track and prices are expected to fall in line.