Latest Coronavirus updates from the idc team

Even though the Covid-19 pandemic is very unsettling, idc continues to operate as normal, with a fully operational supply network across the UK.
We are in constant contact with all fresh food supply partners and below are our market updates for the most recent period.

For most of our dairy supply partners, May has been a very tough month with volumes on vehicles still reducing. Prices still look set to rise further on key dairy lines for the foreseeable future, with further updates planned throughout the coming months.

Prices are still set to continue to rise over the next few months with farmers experiencing cost increases in animal feed and additives. However, after a sluggish start to the growing season, grass growth seems to be more positive, so this will help with farmers costs with delayed payments from some of countries processors.

The dairy sector has faced a crisis due to COVID-19 and continued campaigning by the sector has led to the government offering English dairy farmers a support package of £10,000 each or up to 70% of their pre-COVID-19 income. This has been welcomed by the sector as the huge drop in demand and delayed payments from customers and wholesalers has placed the producers under considerable financial strain.

Another impact of the Covid-19 situation is line capacity. Milk processing capacity in the country relies on all factories running without incident. A site breakdown, particularly if repairs are difficult to source because of the lockdown, can significantly reduce our processing capability and lead to an increased risk of excess milk needing to be disposed of.

Pork: Prices continue their upward trajectory and pricing is still 17% above the 5-year average and 14% higher than the same week last year. Prices look set to
remain at these high levels for now with slight increases weekly as we have been seeing over the last month or so.

Beef: The closure of hospitality is most markedly seen in the imbalance in demand for the whole carcass for meat – leading to an oversupply of steak cuts.

Consumers have begun to see this in the supermarkets with some staggeringly low steak prices being offered. Overall, pricing remains firm with reports suggesting that there could be a rise in the price of forequarter (mince, diced, brisket) and round cuts (topside & silverside) in the near future.

Lamb: Prices gain slightly as we move from old season lambs (hoggets) to new season lamb.

Poultry: Pricing remains stable but firm with no movement from last week. Industry reports suggesting we could see some rises in the coming weeks,
especially if schools reopen on a significant scale.

As we move into June, we’re seeing price increases diminish due to a reduction of panic buying and a recovery in the availability of produce. However, the sector continues to have a tough time due to the lack of trade caused the near closure of the education sector and the total closure of the hospitality industry – leading to reduced delivery days and an increased number of supply partners ‘hibernating’.

A further source of concern is the lack of overseas labour currently available in the UK which has traditionally provided the majority of the ‘picking’ force for the UK harvest. The government has created the website “Pick for Britain” which intends to channel furloughed workers towards available picking jobs – although the success of this is yet to be seen.

Broccoli has been at a startlingly high price for the last few months. Fortunately, the start of the UK season and increased supply from Spain have resulted in prices moving to a level which is much closer to normal for the time of year.

Cauliflower pricing still remains high as the UK main crop has not yet started and we would advise buying these by the kilo or box rather than the each due to the small head size.

Raspberries, blackberries, lettuce, asparagus and cucumber have all eased in price from June as the UK crop has now come in. Likewise, peppers, courgettes, grapes, tomatoes and potatoes (bakers) are returning to fairer market prices.

To Buy:
• Courgette
• Spring greens
• Candy and Golden Beetroot
• Broccoli
• Little Gem, Cos, Lollo Rosso, Oakleaf lettuce
• Strawberries

Buy with care:
• Apples – Bramley and Granny Smith (Stored since Sept’ 2019)
• Citrus – Grapefruit, Lemons, Nectarines, Clementine’s and Satsuma’s (Southern Hemisphere)
• Root Veg – Parsnips, Swede and Turnips
• Pears – Southern Hemisphere (South Africa and Chile)

The dairy markets have remained largely unchanged over the last week and there are no reports of milk not been collected from the farmers. Most of the excess milk in the country is being used in storable products, rather than being poured away, which is of course positive, but in some areas of the country farmers are still being asked to reduce their milk levels by up to 5%.

The dairy industry is waiting to hear what the government’s plans will be about social distancing and its plans to let business re-open over the next few weeks. This will have a massive impact on the industry and allow workplace canteens and coffee shops to start ordering dairy products again. We anticipate that these sites will be very cautious in ordering so that they minimise the amount of potential waste.

We should also be mindful that the milk processing capacity in the country relies on all factories running without incident. A site breakdown, particularly if repairs are difficult to source as a result of the lockdown, can significantly reduce our processing capability and lead to an increased risk of excess milk
needing to be disposed of by the country’s dairy farmers.

For most of our dairy supply partners, May will be a tough month with volumes on vehicles still reducing. Prices still look set to rise further on key dairy lines for the foreseeable future.

Pork prices are unchanged from last week’s slight movement upwards. The price is still 17% above the 5-year average and 14% higher than the same week last year, and prices look set to remain at these levels.

As in the previous few weeks, beef is the major concern, with the imbalance of the carcass. Some supermarkets have started offering steaking meat at highly reduced levels, but the problem persists and with foodservice closures, this looks set to continue. Slaughterings rose by 13 % on last week balancing out the previous downtrend a few weeks ago. Pricing remains firm, with reports suggesting forequarter (mince, diced, brisket etc) and round cuts (topside and silverside) could be moving upwards.

Cow prices increased and slaughter picked up by 3%, with industry reports suggesting that demand for cow meat is strong, with some processors restarting orders again.

Pricing on lamb remains relatively unchanged, with a slight movement up on new season lamb. Throughput was approximately 10,000 down on previous last week; this is to be expected with the switch to new season lamb.

Poultry remains stable but firm with no movement from last week.

Another week of lockdown, and pressures within the produce industry on availability continue. Here is a reminder of our buying advice on what’s good or not so good to buy during the month of May.

The not so good:

Citrus fruits

The good:

Jersey Royals

Although high in price on some cases, here are some produce of superb quality at the moment, with varying origins:

Strawberries – Kent/UK
Rhubarb – UK
Chard – UK
Sweet Potato – Spain
Hispi Cabbage – Spain
Yellow Round Courgette – Spain
Savoy Cabbage – Spain
Apricots – Spain
Fennel – Italy
Peas – Italy

Despite higher retail sales, overall demand for milk and all other dairy products in the UK is currently running around 2m litres per day lower than it was before the Covid-19 lockdown. This reduced demand comes from lower foodservice sales; in addition processors are still struggling to find a home for excess milk.

During the spring in the UK, factory output is normally driven by processing capacity and milk supply rather than short-term demand. The only additional challenge for dairy processors during the first few weeks after lockdown has been the impact of staff absence. We should also be mindful that the processing capacity in the country relies on all factories running without incident. A site breakdown, particularly if repairs are difficult to source as a result of the lockdown, can significantly reduce processing capability and lead to an increased risk of excess milk needing to be disposed of.

The government is still in negotiations with dairy farmers to see how they can help further with cash flow problems and speed up the Business Interruption Loan Scheme. These are very tough times for the dairy industry as we enter peak production.

For most of our dairy supply partners it has been the same story for the whole of April with volumes on vehicles reducing every week and, in some cases, more and more drivers being furloughed. With the increases we have seen in milk and eggs, we could potentially see other dairy lines rising in the foreseeable future. We will continue to support the industry and our dairy suppliers, delivering the best option for our customers.

Pork supplies continue to be tight whilst prices have gone up slightly since last week – although numbers are approximately 7,000 head below average for the week.

Beef remains the biggest concern with the imbalance of the carcase. Prices remain highly influenced by foodservice closures and there are no signs of the present situation changing. Mince, dicing and round cuts are tight this week, with short weeks previously they are still holding their upward pricing. Steaking meat is floundering, as in previous reports, concerns over processor revenues continue with possibilities of lesser production.

Beef slaughterings have improved slightly on the previous week but are still lower than normal.
Hogget prices remain unchanged, whilst new season lamb prices are up and continue to move in an upward direction. Throughput has increased from last week, however is still low for this season. Throughputs over the coming weeks would normally be expected to drop as the market switches from hoggets to new season lambs.

Poultry has finally stabilized with no movement from last week, again, as in last week’s report, change may happen if production is lowered.

Another difficult week has passed, but it feels like supply has steadied and albeit with some exceptions, prices reflect this.
Certain products are still proving expensive because of either short supply or change in season. These currently include:

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Potatoes

  • Apples

  • Citrus fruits

  • Cabbages

  • Peppers

However, products that are currently great to buy, with both an affordable price and excellent quality for the season, include:

  • Grapes

  • Cucumbers

  • Tomatoes

  • Courgette

  • Aubergines

  • Jersey Royals

  • Asparagus

In addition to the wonderful Jersey Royal that we spoke about last week, asparagus is another excellent UK product that is coming into season now. Asparagus is dubbed the king of the vegetable world, because it transcends most veg and has spears that can grow up to 10cm in just one day. This vegetable has grown immensely in popularity in recent years and we are now at the start of the much-anticipated British asparagus season.

Asparagus is a distant cousin of the onion, with a history that dates back over 2,000 years. This vegetable is believed to have originated in eastern Mediterranean countries, with wild asparagus being found in Egypt and Africa that date back to similar times. It is widely accepted that a French variation of the vegetable made its way over the Channel and was first cultivated in the UK in the seventieth century. Over time this evolved into the asparagus that we know and love today.

Asparagus comes in three different colours: green, purple and white. Whilst green is the most common and popular colour in the UK, white and purple asparagus are now also more readily available. The green asparagus has the boldest flavour of the three colours and is grown above ground in direct sunlight. In contrast, the ghost-like colour of white asparagus is achieved by simply depriving it of sunlight; this type of asparagus has a milder flavour and is preferred in many European countries. White asparagus is often more expensive due to the more laborious farming process. Purple asparagus first came about in the Albenga region of Italy and has a nuttier, fruitier taste due to its higher sugar content.

Covid-19’s impact on labour and transport, combined with shortages caused in previous weeks from panic buying, have had a serious impact on availability within the fruit and veg industry as a whole.

Arguably, broccoli has been the worst effected over the last few weeks. Given the extremity of short supply, prices have almost quadrupled. However, an ease in price is expected in the early weeks of May. Similarly, for cauliflower too. However, the UK main crop on both is still 4-6 weeks away.

Carrots and potatoes are still tricky as supply shortens and we await the UK season to start.

Peppers are proving problematic as the season has all but finished in Spain and we move onto Holland for supply. The quality of produce is very good. However, availability is short while we wait for the main crop to come through.

Some cabbages are also a problem on the back of the consistent rainfall throughout February, delaying the crop and limiting availability.

Citrus produce as well as apples will see an increase on price from May onwards. The Northern Hemisphere season is coming to an end and we are moving to South America and South Africa for supply over the coming months until late summer/early autumn.

Moving onto some good news, we have some produce with an abundance of supply, good quality and sensible prices including Grapes, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Courgettes, Aubergines and Jersey Royals.

Given some of the potato issues faced in previous weeks, we will finish with a little bit more on the fabulous, unique potato that is the Jersey Royal…

“The first kidney-shaped Jersey Royals that arrive around now always seem like little capsules of hope, banishing winter and ushering in the spring. Their sweet, earthy flavour brings promise of warm sun on the skin, tennis whites, and the aroma of freshly mown grass. Jersey Royals are here, spring has sprung” (Clare Hargreaves, Countryfile).

As their name suggests, these creamy-white, waxy potatoes come from the Channel Island of Jersey, where the mild climate allows their precocious growth well ahead of mainland early spuds. They’ve been grown in Jersey since the 19th century but, like many great inventions, the potato’s beginnings were an accident – in fact its original name was Jersey Royal Fluke.

It all began with a post-ploughing supper thrown by a Jersey farmer called Hugh de la Haye in 1879. The conversation turned to spuds, and Hugh showed his guests two freakishly large potatoes he had been given. One had 15 ‘eyes’, just waiting for new plants to sprout, so he cut them up and stuck each of the eyes in the ground to see what would happen. The following spring a crop appeared, and while most of the potatoes were round, some had the characteristic kidney shape of what would later become known as the Jersey Royal.

The new spud may have been small and strangely shaped, but the wonderful taste was an instant hit both at home and on the mainland. By the late 1890s, annual exports had rocketed to nearly 67,000 tonnes. Today, exports total between 30,000 and 40,000 tonnes, because the amount of agricultural land on the island has decreased as the population has increased.

Along with milk and cream, Jersey Royals are one of the island’s gastronomic trump cards. The potato’s delicate flavour cannot be beaten or replicated – literally, as it is the only British vegetable to have coveted Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, which safeguards it against imitations.

Jersey Royals (never call them Jersey Royal potatoes) are still grown on small plots in much the way they have been grown for the past 120 years, using local vraic seaweed as a natural fertiliser, which adds to the taste. The earliest potatoes are lifted by hand – so delicate are their skins that they must be cosseted. To minimise bruising, the harvester digs under the crop and lifts the potatoes up, so they are cushioned by soil.

The potatoes are ideally suited to the island’s conditions. The soil is fertile, the climate is warm, and the island is made up of valleys that generally all slope southwards – allowing the soil to be drenched in sunshine.

The potatoes are planted early January and lifting them begins in early April. The last Jerseys are harvested at the end of June, after which seed is kept for next year’s crop. Freshness is key to enjoying the Jerseys’ earthy flavour and this flavour to some really is the first taste of spring.