Britain is in the grip of a cauliflower crisis, with supermarket shelves emptying after heavy rain destroyed this year’s crop in Lincolnshire, while alternative European supplies are drying up after the continental heatwave.
Wholesalers said there was a huge shortage of cauliflowers, with one leading supplier telling restaurants to take cauliflower-related meals off their menus.
The wholesale price for cauliflowers has soared by 400%, with the few remaining suppliers in Holland, Italy and France demanding £3 a cauliflower, compared with the normal price of about 60p.
The British Growers Association (BGA) confirmed that supplies had been seriously affected by extreme weather conditions particularly in the Lincolnshire fields where most of the UK’s cauliflower is grown. It also said cabbages and other brassicas were at risk.
Jack Ward of the BGA said: “Back in June many farms had more than six inches [152mm] of rain in the space of a week. In some places, fields were under water for an extensive time and it’s not just that it damages the crops, it does enormous amounts of damage to the soil.
“It damaged not just the standing crop but also those due for harvest about now, as well as brussels sprouts for Christmas. Lincolnshire is the main supplier, so it’s left the whole of the UK short.”
Supermarkets and wholesalers typically source supplies from overseas markets when British farms are unable to supply. But this year’s record-breaking heatwaves in Europe have left continental suppliers unable to fill orders.
The BGA said the failure of the brassica crop had left some farmers devastated. Ward said: “For some, a year’s work was destroyed in one week of rains.”
Vernon Mascarenhas, director of Covent Garden wholesaler Nature’s Choice, which supplies 400 restaurants in London, including those owned by the Roux brothers, said: “There is a huge UK shortage of cauliflowers at the moment. We are having to search everywhere for supply. But they are extremely costly, with prices at the wholesale level reaching £3 a cauliflower when the normal price is capped at around 60p. We are already telling people just to take them off the menu.”
In recent years demand for cauliflowers in Britain has risen as what was once regarded as a dull boiled vegetable has become a favourite ingredient in vegan and vegetarian dishes, and become more popular in restaurants as people reduce their meat intake. Sales of cauli rice and couscous have multiplied, with cultivation acreage devoted to cauliflower increasing by about 50% in recent years.
But the climate emergency has left farmers struggling to cope with extreme weather events. Ward said: “Just look what we’ve had over the past year or so. We’ve had the beast from the east, extremely dry months and extremely wet months.
“We had crops last year planted and harvested without any rain falling on them. This year we also had very low light levels during June, cloudy and damp conditions, which hampered growth.”
The vegetable supply issues come as supermarkets brace themselves for the impact of a potential no-deal Brexit on food supply chains at the end of October.