Food tsar and Leon founder Henry Dimbleby has blamed the UK’s “weird supermarket culture” for the ongoing shortages of certain vegetables on grocers’ shelves.

Empty vegetable shelves in a supermarket

Grocers have been limiting sales of fresh produce such as tomatoes and cucumbers

Dimbleby said “fixed-price contracts” between supermarkets and suppliers exacerbate food shortages during periods of scarcity as producers then sell less to the UK and more elsewhere in Europe.

As an example of “market failure”, Dimbleby said UK lettuce prices in supermarkets were kept stable, regardless of supply. This means farmers cannot sell all their produce when they have too much or be properly incentivised to grow more.

“If there’s bad weather across Europe because there’s a scarcity, supermarkets put their prices up – but not in the UK. And therefore, at the margin, the suppliers will supply to France, Germany, Ukraine,” he told The Guardian.

The comments from the government’s adviser on food strategy come as several supermarkets have limited sales of fresh produce such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, blaming extreme weather affecting harvests in Spain and North Africa.

Shortages have also been compounded by high energy prices impacting UK growers and ongoing issues with supply chains.

Shortages have driven up inflation, which hit a 45-year high last month having stabilised.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said retailers were “pragmatists and recognise the need to pay more when costs are high and produce is short”.

“They’re working with growers every day,” he added.

Dimbleby, however, said the current situation was “frustrating”, blaming “this weird supermarket culture”.

He said it was “a weird competitive dynamic that’s emerged in the UK, and nowhere else in the world has it, and I don’t know why that is”.

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