Cauliflower prices slashed as UK's warm weather leads to glut

Supermarkets forced to cut cauliflower price despite recent growth in sales as UK farmers bring bumper harvest to market

Get the cheese sauce on. Supermarkets are slashing the price of cauliflower because a relatively warm start to the year has produced a glut of florets.

Farmers say they have been producing 50% to 100% more crop than usual in recent weeks. A new harvest of produce from Lincolnshire is about to come on the market, adding to stocks already coming from Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and Suffolk.

Morrisons is to cut cauliflower prices to 75p early next week, after Tesco cut its prices from £1 to 79p this week. Asda cut its price to 70p on Thursday, compared with the 95p it was charging in late February.

The glut comes after shortages of courgettes, spinach, lettuce and other leafy vegetables earlier this year when snow and wet weather in southern Spain held up harvests. Iceberg lettuces soared in price by nearly 70% as some supermarkets shipped them in from the US.

Sources said supermarkets were struggling to clear cauliflower stocks despite a 12% rise in the number sold in the three months to the end of February compared with the same period the previous year, according to the market research firm Kantar Worldpanel.

The extra sales have been driven by cheaper prices and by a trend to serve cauliflower as a low-carb alternative. The fashion for clean eating has sparked demand for cauli rice and cauli couscous – basically cauliflower blasted in a food processor – and for cauliflowers to be roasted whole or cut into “steaks”.

The warm spring has also put British-grown asparagus on shelves earlier than usual. The first spears of the season have already gone on sale at Marks & Spencer. British asparagus is usually not in season until late April or early May but good weather combined with new early varieties and growing methods have helped produce an early crop.

Farmer holding freshly cut cauliflower and knife
Farmers say they have been harvesting 50% to 100% more cauliflower than usual in recent weeks. Photograph: Mint Images/Rex/Shutterstock

Richard Mowbray, commercial director of the vegetable grower TH Clements and vice-chairman of the Brassica Growers Association, said the cauliflower glut had been building up since November. Colder weather then delayed crops that should have been harvested earlier but have become ready to cut at the same time as later plantings.

The weather has a big impact on the growth of cauliflower, which must be harvested within a short time frame – as little as a week – making it tricky to control stocks.

“We’ve had a glut for three or four weeks now. The colder weather this week should slow it down, but we’ve got maybe another week or so,” Mowbray said.

Tesco said it was buying 220,000 more cauliflowers from its producers this month – on top of the 400,000 it usually stocks – to help tackle the cauliflower mountain.

Greville Richards, managing director of Southern England Farms based in Cornwall, said he had ploughed 40 to 50 acres of the 2,000 acres of cauliflowers he grows back into fields as supply had outstripped demand. But he has also been exporting cauliflower to northern Europe, including Denmark, and had sold more cauliflower than usual in the UK in January as crops expected to be supplied from Spain had been held back by poor weather there.

Richards said it had been tricky dealing with the overstocks but he was “financially pleased” with his growing season. “We did win business when Spain was out of action and the lower exchange rates have helped exports,” he said.

Mowbray said he had also ploughed in some of his cauliflower crop and had frozen some but had been able to export nearly a fifth of his recent crop to Europe, mainly Scandinavia, as the fall in the value of the pound had made British produce more attractive.


Sarah Butler

The GuardianTramp

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