Lidl has become the latest major supermarket chain to ration sales of some fruit and vegetables after an increase in shoppers looking for them after rival retailers implemented their own restrictions.
The UK’s sixth-largest supermarket chain said it had introduced a buying limit of three items per customer on peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers after a “recent increase in demand”.
While Tesco, Aldi, Asda and Morrisons have already implemented rationing protocols, Lidl had held off, instead posting signs telling shoppers there may be delays in some of its produce being restocked.
“As advised to our customers through signage in our stores last week, adverse weather conditions in Spain and Morocco have recently impacted the availability of certain salad items across the supermarket sector,” a spokesperson said.
However, a rise in demand at Lidl stores after limits were imposed by rivals prompted the retailer to follow suit.
“While we still have good availability across the majority of our stores, due to a recent increase in demand we have taken the decision to temporarily limit the purchase of peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers to three items per person,” the spokesperson said. “This will help to ensure that all of our customers have access to the products they need.”
The gaps on retailers’ fresh produce shelves have been triggered by cold weather that has hit crops in Spain and north Africa, and by big cutbacks by British and Dutch growers, who usually plant salads under glass at this time of year. They say the reduction is because the supermarkets have not been prepared to cover the increased cost of heating.
On Sunday, George Eustice, a former environment secretary, said he expected the shortages in salad crops to last three to four weeks.
Mark Spencer, a food and farming minister, was due to meet top executives at the UK’s biggest supermarkets on Monday evening to discuss issues including restocking plans and how to avoid a repeat of the shortages.
The meeting comes after his boss, Thérèse Coffey, the environment secretary, was criticised for suggesting in parliament on Thursday that in the face of shortage UK households might choose to “cherish” British turnips instead.
Salad items are far from the only foodstuff in short supply. Field crops including leeks, carrots and kale have also been hit badly by frosts before Christmas. This prompted Tim Casey, the chair of the Leek Growers’ Association, to warn that UK-grown leeks could be difficult to find this St David’s Day, which falls on Wednesday.
The alarm has also been sounded over British production of apples and pears, with growers warning that just a third of the number of trees needed to maintain the UK’s orchards have being planted this year amid “unsustainable” returns from supermarkets that make the business unviable.
In a statement after the meeting, Spencer said he spoke to retailers about “how they work with our farmers and how they buy fruit and vegetables, so they can further build our preparedness for these unexpected incidents”.