Food shortages hit UK supermarkets again as fears grow toilet paper shortages could follow in May - here’s why

It comes after tomatoes, cucumbers and raspberries had to be rationed earlier this year as a result of several factors, including bad weather in Spain and Morocco

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Food shortages have hit some UK supermarket shelves again just weeks after several fresh fruit and vegetable products disappeared from shelves.

Morrisons and Waitrose have both been hit by a lack of peppers from Spain, with Morrisons limiting purchases to two per customer. It comes after peppers, tomatoes and raspberries were rationed by retailers in February and March.

While weather extremes in both Spain and Morocco both played a part, several other factors have also influenced availability issues. These include high energy costs for farmers in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, Brexit-related staff shortages, and the operating models of the UK’s biggest supermarket chains.

It has also been reported that food supply issues could soon be followed by a shortage of another key staple of the weekly shop - toilet roll. New EU laws could restrict supplies on UK shelves from next month.

So, what do we know about the latest supermarket shortages - and why could toilet roll soon be in short supply?

What’s caused the latest food shortages?

Food shortages have struck again as a result of continuing weather challenges in Spain.

Unseasonably warm temperatures in early January were followed by a prolonged cold snap. The heat ripened fruit and vegetable crops early, while the cold and dull conditions that followed in February and March slowed growth. The country has also been hit by lower-than-average rainfall and high temperatures for five years, which has created irrigation issues.

Spanish growers have struggled with weather conditions (image: AFP/Getty Images)Spanish growers have struggled with weather conditions (image: AFP/Getty Images)
Spanish growers have struggled with weather conditions (image: AFP/Getty Images)

According to a mid-April crop report from major fresh produce catering supplier Reynolds, the volume of peppers coming through the supply chain from the Spanish region of Almeria was “rapidly decreasing”, with “sub-standard quality” also being reported.

It added that crops from Murcia and Alicante were “just about to start”, so only green peppers have been available from these areas. The firm said romaine lettuce and tomatoes are also proving difficult to source.

These problems have coincided with a lack of production in European greenhouses as a result of high energy prices. Meanwhile, supermarkets have been accused of not being willing to pay enough for their produce. Lea Valley Growers Association - a group of glasshouse growers spread across Essex, Hertfordshire and London - said British-grown pepper crops would typically have become available by now but “unfortunately, not all growers received a decent price so didn’t plant this year”.

Responding to the latest supply problems, Waitrose said it was working hard with its suppliers to get supplies back on shelves. It added that it expects stock levels to improve in the coming weeks as the UK moves into its growing season.

British Retail Consortium director of food and sustainability Andrew Opie said: “Difficult weather conditions in the south of Europe disrupted harvest for some fruit and vegetables, including peppers.

“A few stores have implemented temporary limits on how much customers can buy to ensure availability for everyone. However, availability should improve for those impacted in the coming weeks as we enter the UK growing season.”

The food shortages seen in February contributed to an unexpected spike in inflation. It means news of further supply problems is likely to lead to fears that the rate of food prices will continue to remain elevated in next month’s inflation data.

Supermarket toilet paper shortages have not been seen since the Covid-19 pandemic (image: AFP/Getty Images)Supermarket toilet paper shortages have not been seen since the Covid-19 pandemic (image: AFP/Getty Images)
Supermarket toilet paper shortages have not been seen since the Covid-19 pandemic (image: AFP/Getty Images)

Why could toilet paper shortages hit the UK?

Low availability of key food items could soon be followed by shortages of toilet paper. Last month, retail trade magazine The Grocer reported that EU legislation set to come into force in May could lead to empty shelves in the UK - something that hasn’t been seen since panic-buying in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.

New EU laws will require companies trading in product categories that have been linked to deforestation, such as wood and coffee, to introduce supply chain measures ensuring their products have not been sourced in an environmentally unfriendly way. The Grocer reported that not only could the measure restrict loo roll imports, but it could also drive up prices of recycled or alternatively sourced toilet roll.