Market Report - August 2021

Fresh Produce

Each month at idc we aim to provide information on the fresh produce sector across the United Kingdom, Europe, and the world; we can advise and guide you, and your chefs on the market changes, product changes and seasonal trends to ensure you’re able to make an informed choice in line with your menus and budgetary requirements.

Transport

Ongoing transport issues with the lack of drivers have forced a group of transport and food body industries to write to the prime minister for help to resolve the lorry driver crisis.

The letter, signed by RHA chief executive Richard Burnett and co-signed by a range of logistics companies and industry bodies including the Food & Drink Federation, Federation of Wholesale Distributors and BFFF, outlined the factors exacerbating the current crisis.

The group claims there is now a shortage of over 100,000 lorry drivers, leading to supply chains failing. They say a combination of Covid, Brexit, drivers retiring, a shortage of driving test capacity and the introduction of IR35 is behind the severe shortage.

To make matters worse, the letter said, the approaching summer holidays will see drivers taking their holiday leave entitlement, leaving potential shortages throughout the coming months and into the build-up to Christmas.

This is having a major effect not only on retail but also the fruit and veg wholesale sector. Deliveries are turning up days and up to a week late in some circumstances causing shortages. Infrequent deliveries are pushing costs upon certain lines.

Labour continues to be an issue for UK farmed crops, this is all having an increase in costs.

Potatoes

Trade across the week has been described as subdued, as outlets de-stock old-crop material in anticipation for new-crop potatoes.

Pockets of new-crop potatoes have been lifted, but it is expected that increased supplies will come to market next week.

Crops are currently looking good, but some regions are particularly dry, causing some concern for the main crop.

Jersey Royal – Farmers may have to cut the volume of Jersey Royal potatoes grown in a season if the Island’s biggest agricultural crop is to maintain its premium status, an industry leader has said. Paula Thelwell reports for Jersey Evening Post that the Jersey Royal potato has dominated the UK early season fresh produce market for over a century – but farming developments in the potato sector, stiff competition from other agricultural regions and changing consumer habits threaten its market lead. Depending on weather conditions that affect the crop, around 30,000 tonnes of Jersey Royals are exported to the UK over a five-month season.

Root Vegetables & Brassicas

UK Red and white cabbage have started up again so we will see a reduction in costs and also a more uniform size per head.

UK Leek and carrot season are also well underway now, the quality is always better than the imports and again we can see better costs than the imported.

Cauliflower and Broccoli have seen a recent spike in costs due to the April frosts preventing planting. This is now passed, and we should see availability returning to normal. Though costs may remain higher than average due to labour and transport issues.

Fruit

Scotlands soft fruit farmers fear berries could rot in polytunnels due to a shortage of pickers coming from Eastern Europe, reports Glasgow based STV News

Scottish growers blame post-Brexit costs and delays to visa paperwork for discouraging seasonal workers coming back to Scotland this year.

STV News said in previous years 75 per cent of seasonal workers coming from Europe would return to Scottish farms. But this year, the combination of Covid and Brexit has resulted in workers travelling to other countries instead where there is less paperwork and less cost.

Berries continue to be one of the industry’s big success stories, with the category now worth over £1.7 billion and Brits buying no less than 239,243 tonnes of berries in the past year.

British raspberry volumes are expected to grow by almost 15 per cent this year after a recent spate of good weather heralded a strong start to the season.

The UK raspberry season is now in full swing and fruit is expected to be in plentiful supply thanks to favourable growing conditions in recent weeks.

Raspberry consumption continues to rise year on year thanks to improved consistency of supply, better availability from import sources, varietal development and rising purchase frequency. Sales were up 7.5 per cent in value and 5.7 per cent in volume in the 52 weeks to 16 May 2021.

During that period, Brits bought more raspberries than ever before, with value sales reaching £371 million and volume sales rising to 33,400 tonnes. That’s equivalent to 2,700 London double-decker buses.

As a combined category, berries now account for 26 per cent of total fruit sales in the UK, with a total value of £1.7 billion.

Stonefruit

Europe’s stonefruit sector has advised distributors to stay vigilant as they warn of a “significant” shortage of peaches, nectarines and apricots this year caused by the severe frosts that hit production in April.

The annual European stonefruit conference, Medfel, in late May estimated that the region’s 2021 peach and nectarine crop is down 36 per cent on the five-year average – representing one of the smallest European harvests in the last 30 years. Meanwhile, European apricot volumes are down 40 per cent compared to the 2015-2019 average of 343,502 tonnes.

This volume could shrink further, stonefruit leaders warned, if producer countries encounter unfavourable weather, such as extreme heat or hail, in the summer months ahead.

Spain, Europe’s number one stonefruit producer, forecasts peach and nectarine yields of 1.2m tonnes, 20 per cent down on its five-year average, with apricot volumes down by a third to 86,835 tonnes. Italy, meanwhile, currently pegs peach and nectarine production at 722,700 tonnes – 45 per cent down on its five-year average – and apricots at 154,224 tonnes down 37 per cent.

Prices are higher than average for this time of year for all stonefruit.

Top Fruit

August will see the start of the new season of Bramley apples and also the start of French imported apples.

Royal Gala will start at the beginning of August with Golden starting shortly after and Granny Smith starting at the end of the month.

French apple producers were not spared by the successive frost episodes in the spring. Like everywhere else, the efforts to fight the frost were colossal with some producers fighting for more than 15 nights.

Harvest predictions reveal significant disparities within the group between the producers that were not able to fight against the unexpected cold weather, and the producers who desperately deployed all their energy to save their production at all costs. Those who had access to water were able to protect their orchards relatively well, except maybe in some areas of the Alps where the extremely low temperatures reaching -8/-10°C severely compromised the harvests.

A positive element amidst the unprecedented situation: the notable massive return of the fruit after a low 2020 production. This exceptional productivity can be observed today in the protected orchards where the departure load and late-flowering give hope for a good harvest in terms of volumes.

We will see prices coming down as more French apple arrives.

Salads

UK lettuce and baby leaf are of excellent quality, growers are struggling with the availability of staff.

Speaking with one grower the lettuce crops need weeding and is struggling for staff to do it. He then came out with this old saying, ‘One year’s weed – seven years’ seed,’ contains more truth than myth. Weeds (some native and some introduced) are remarkably adapted to conditions in the area where they grow, usually, much more so than the imported, cultured vegetables we prize so highly for food. Weed seeds may remain viable for those seven (or more) years when conditions are not right for their growth. Then, brought to the surface by tilling and uninhibited by sod, shade, or other factors, they germinate and become pests that take water, nutrients, sunlight, and space from vegetable plants. This year’s lack of staff could affect the next 7 years crops.

Buyers Choice - Cherries

The British cherry harvest is well underway, with growers expecting 5,500 tonnes of home-grown British cherries to hit supermarket shelves this summer.

With UK growers producing cherries across the country including in Kent, Staffordshire, Hampshire, Lincolnshire and Essex, the industry, via Love Fresh Cherries, is predicting another year of good availability for consumers.

“With all signs showing another strong UK cherry season, people across the country will be able to enjoy big and juicy British home-grown cherries at their peak all the way through to September.”

Make the most of this fruit while it is available.

The average cherry tree has 7,000 cherries.

A cherry tree can be harvested in seven seconds. Thanks to the introduction of mechanical tree shakers, the laborious process of hand-picking cherries now takes a mere seven seconds per tree. Efficiency has its price, though. Because the machine is so intense, it shortens a tree’s life by seven years.

Cherry is a rich source of vitamin C and dietary fibres. Sour cherry also contains vitamin A. Sour type is a bit healthier than the sweet type. Cherries have a low caloric value. 100 g of cherries have only 63 calories.

Red cherries contain melatonin which helps to fight against harmful toxins. These fruits also contain a high level of antioxidants which are beneficial to the human body.

The English word “Cherry” comes from Old Northern French or Normal “Cherise” from the Latin “Cerasum,” referring to an ancient Greek region, Kerasous, near Giresun, Turkey, from which cherries were first thought to be exported to Europe.

Cherries were introduced into England at Teynham, near Sittingbourne in Kent, by order of Henry VIII, who had tasted them in Flanders.

To bring out the flavour of cherry, use a quarter teaspoon of pure almond extract.

A chemical reaction between cherries and alkalies such as baking powder causes a blue discolouration in a baked product. This can be prevented by using sour cream instead of milk in the recipe or by adding an acidic liquid.

Cherries were part of Roman soldiers’ rations, and as they travelled, the pits they discarded became the trees that proliferated throughout the empire. There was a saying that to find the old Roman roads, all you had to do was follow the wild cherry trees.

From Lamberts to Lapins to Rainers and Royal Anns, there are more than 500 varieties of sweet cherries and almost as many tart ones. However, only 20% are used in commercial production.