Well, where to start….
Something something bad weather in Europe & North Africa, something something war in Ukraine, something something energy crisis. Definitely not Brexit. Nope. Not even a bit. What’s that over there?
Ok, so here’s where we are. Firstly I should mention that I am a former supply chain professional, working for more than 10 years supplying the UK big 4 Supermarkets (and one more upmarket slightly smaller one), and this is my lukewarm take (we can’t afford hot these days, unless it’s off peak).
Firstly, some crops have been affected in Spain and Morocco certainly, and yet here in France, and in the affected countries themselves, supply is plentiful. Here are some pictures from my weekly shop.
Surely with a reported Europe wide shortage there would be no Ratatouille for us?
Here’s the thing. I’ve met countless Supermarket buyers over the years. I’ve liked precisely one. I’d rate the majority as scoring pretty highly on the psychopath test. I’ve had colleagues that I’ve liked and respected, that have gone on to become Supermaket buyers and immediately morphed into weapons grade arseholes. Why? Because power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.
They are the great whites of the purchasing world, the very top of the food chain. The suppliers, and sub suppliers below, fading away from sardines into plankton. They stamp their feet, and make demands which have suppliers working themselves into the ground for less and less and less, while their raw materials and overhead costs soar. There comes a point that suppliers, finding themselves in a culture of supply or die, have chosen the latter.
So, fresh produce now costs more to grow and ship, and there’s a little less of it, and fewer suppliers to trade with . And all this produce (In winter) is over a little 21 mile wide stretch of water, and in another trade zone.
European supermarkets are willing to pay more to guarantee supply, UK supermarkets have made that choice for you. They’re not willing to pay more. Proudly proclaiming that the Uk shopping basket of goods is consistently one of the cheapest in Europe. Here in France the cost of a weekly shop can be eyewatering, and we have had to get used to shopping seasonally. Here though at least, there is an understanding that you get what you pay for and it’s reflected in the quality of the goods. In the UK, there has to be a realisation that corners will have been cut somewhere along the supply chain to allow you to have a £2 chicken. The reason it’s called a supply chain is because it’s only as strong as it’s weakest link.
On mainland Europe, land borders with countries like Spain, and onwards to Portugal make for easier and faster shipping, logistics are cheaper due to the geographic basics – less KM travelled= less fuel consumed, plus no barriers to trade caused by shipping cross border, as imposed by Brexit. So easier customs paperwork, faster and cheaper logistics, and a willingness to pay a better price for goods when they’re in short supply. Its easy to see why this shortage is localised.
Add to this far cheaper energy costs here in France for example, where the major energy companies are government owned, allowing for more price control to minimise the market increase impact to the consumer. UK have Thatcher to really thank for the privatisation of the Utility companies, and now their hugely increased profits, while the average household is struggling to pay for heating. Imagine the cost of heating poly tunnels and greenhouses?
Also the popular supply model of JIT, (just in time), means exactly what it says. Goods arrive at the exact moment required for sale, requirements being updated electronically with every beep of a self-service checkout. This reduces warehousing costs and product wastage amongst having other benefits. Because Supermarkets, and their depots, hold the barest minimum of stock, there is no ability to replenish quickly if there’s a supply issue, and of course when you are talking fresh products, they may only have 7 days shelf life anyway, so you cannot simply hold more in reserve. Moving away from this long held supply principle would mean huge expense, and guess who would ultimately pick up the bill for this?. Clue, it won’t be the supermarkets.
The elephant in the room is still most definitely Brexit though. UK farmers used to EU subsidies are beginning to see that they are going to be considerably worse off now. Some have diversified into growing crops such as animal feeds, instead of fruit and veg for your supermarkets. I absolutely can’t speak for all farmers, but certainly the ones close to where I used to live in Yorkshire had huge vote leave posters in their fields. For those that did, I struggle to sympathise. Due to UK weather, temperature sensitive, out of season crops like strawberries and salads were always going to have to be imported during winter. When was the last time you really thought about the countries of origin on your produce?
Remember one of the reasons stated for voting leave was to remove competition for cheap labour. Trouble is “home grown” fruit and veg pickers have been as hard to come by, as hospitality staff and nurses. Indeed a former employer had to set up it’s own employment agency, housing and transport to site for Eastern European workers, because local people didn’t want to work in a hairnet, in the middle of the night, in a rurally located meat processing factory. Might I add, they were some of the most qualified (my warehouse assistant had a degree in engineering) and hardest working people I’ve ever had the privilege to work alongside.
My problem is, even if Brexit is causing a fraction of a percent of the problem, it still needs to be stated by the media, and included in the discussion, not glossed over because it’s a politically dirty word. Let’s not forget that the chairman of the BBC is under investigation for allegedly making introductions to lend money to the former PM, and whether that could have influenced his appointment. He is also a prominent Tory party donor.
The next swathe of changes to fresh produce import requirements doesn’t even kick in until next year. The cynic in me says that’s so you’ll have forgotten all about the pesky B word when the next lot of shortages inevitably happen . That’s of course if it doesn’t get kicked into the long grass again, in the name of progress you understand….
Doesn’t take a genius does it?
PS. This article is brought to you in conjunction with the Kale Advisory board and the Wetwang Turnip Federation. *Other vegetable are available. But not many in February. Terms and conditions apply, ample free parking, sale ends this weekend.
My previous blog – The Northern Lights
Well said. I too live in France and love shopping seasonally for excellent produce, properly priced.
Thankyou. Suppliers just get screwed to the point they can no longer supply sadly. The consumer ultimately always suffers in the end. Where in France are you?
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Not far from Nice
Oh fab! Visited a few years back and we’ll be down in September for the Rugby World Cup.
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Yes, we’ve plenty of sporting events coming up this year and next.
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God, how right you are! Honestly, where I currently am is a heavy farming area. Friends run big suppliers for many of the supermarkets and have seen real difficulty in staffing, pricing and all. They were dreading the Brexit result and one client, broke down as they were unsure as to how to run operations over the foreseeable future. We also had the giant leave signs, reportedly paid £500 as a minimum to have them in fields, but now there are continual requests for local staff. None want to work in this area, unless it’s in warmer climes!? It saddens me that this is where we are. Also, not surprisingly, there is still immigration issues, tragic stories of rubber dinghies with smuggled people at best in desperate states or worst dead. So, one of the main reasons was to control immigration, but that absolutely hasn’t happened and we are loosing quality workers, beautiful varied communities for what- ‘Make Britain Great’ crap!? Honestly, it really depresses the hell out of me. Yes, I have a vested interest as house home and away, but with kids who want freedom to work all over, shouldn’t we all have this interest?? Anyway, thank you for your brilliant blog, really love it, even if I’m going to go away and cry in a corner now 🤣🤣🤣😉! Xx
Aw thankyou that’s super kind of you. I agree with everything you just said. I went on the last Brexit March, with a million others, when there was still hope. It makes me super sad too, I’ll never not be angry this has happened. X no crying though, the sun is shining today, even if it’s bloody freezing 😂
I totally agree Sis, the British people were lied to and are still being lied to by the Tories and the Media. We both knew as buyers that this kind of situation would arise. Still say we should have another vote based on the truth, I think the outcome would be entirely different. Tories are unable to tell the truth, I think it’s in their genetic make up. X
Agreed, I’m struggling to buy enough popcorn to keep up with Matt Hancocks shenanigans and now Boris again. X