Source: Getty Images 

Supply issues are expected to last until the end of the month, at least, The Grocer has learned

Retailers and suppliers are warning of significant disruption to courgette supplies due to this year’s heatwave.

Supply issues are expected to last until the end of the month, at least, The Grocer has learned – and have already led to prices doubling in wholesale markets.

The shortages are largely down to this summer’s record temperatures and the nationwide drought, which led to the British courgette-growing season ending early.

However, the situation was exacerbated by European growers – from whom the UK sources the majority of its courgettes in winter – starting their season later than usual.

Major retailers such as Tesco have confirmed they have been experiencing courgette supply issues. Morrisons laid the blame on the conditions faced by British farmers this year “as well as a virus that has hit some of our Spanish farms”.

A spokeswoman said the retailer was “working hard to mitigate the issue and minimise disruption for our customers”, in comments echoed by Abel & Cole’s fresh produce buying manager Caroline Dodds – who said yields had already been lower in recent years due to weather challenges and the impact of crop disease.

There is so far little evidence to suggest shortages have driven price inflation in the mults. However, there have already been big price hikes in wholesale.

At London’s New Covent Garden Market, the price per box of courgettes has risen from about £7-£8 to £15 since the summer. It means many customers have “taken courgettes off the menu and found an alternative,” according to Jason Tanner, chair of Premier Fruits, which operates at the market.

Tanner forecast buyers could expect to see a raft of veg supply issues for years to come due to volatile weather and the energy crisis. These conditions were driving farmers to “think twice regarding exactly what they are planting”, he warned.

We’re eating less vegetables and that shouldn’t be happening

“People just haven’t planted as much as they would do,” he said. “They have planted crops to meet the contracts they have got in place, but they were not prepared to plant any extra crops to play the week-to-week market.”

“Even the Spanish have told us for this season they are not planting extra crops,” he added, while Dutch and Belgian growers had told Tanner they were not planning on planting 50% of their greenhouses next year – due to concerns over the cost of heating them.

It follows warnings earlier this year that British greenhouse growers were cutting back on crops. In April, at least 50% of the Lea Valley Growers Association’s members had decided not to plant in their greenhouses this year due to rising heating costs.

The weather has also had a role in supply issues as the hot spell in the summer “really damaged the crops that we would currently be using now”, Tanner added.

This would have a particular impact on the potato crop which was an “awful lot less than what it should be for the next season”, he warned.

This was pushing the prices up across produce, particularly cauliflowers and broccolis, which were at levels they hadn’t been at for years at this time of year, while salad items were also suffering, he pointed out.

The outlook for the fresh produce sector in his view was “very bleak at the moment”.