Britain’s “weird supermarket culture” is to blame for food shortages, Leon’s co-founder has claimed.
Henry Dimbleby, who also works as a government advisor, said that supermarkets’ “fixed price contracts” with farmers mean that growers cannot raise their prices when supply is short so they often end up selling produce to Europe.
It also means that growers are not incentivised to grow more produce when demand is high or lower prices when there is oversupply.
Several supermarkets have restricted sales of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. Shortages have been sparked by extreme weather affecting harvests in Spain and North America.
High energy prices have also affected the market.
Speaking to the Guardian, Mr Dimbleby said: “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 added that there was “weird supermarket culture” in the UK which was very “difficult for the government to solve”.
“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,” he said.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which represents UK supermarkets, defended retailers and said they were “working with growers every day”.
Mr Opie told the BBC that regulation in many European countries meant that supermarkets were forced to pass on extra costs to consumers.
“Whereas UK retailers are doing everything they can to insulate consumers from rapidly rising prices meaning cutting their margins and negotiating on behalf of customers to keep prices as low as possible,” he said.
Figures released last month showed that grocery price inflation had reached a record 17.1%, adding a potential £811 to annual household shopping bills.
February also saw sales of cold treatments rising by 82%, cough liquids up 78% and cough lozenges 70% higher, according to analysts Kantar.
Tesco and Aldi are limiting customers to three units of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, while Asda is also limiting customers on lettuce, salad bags, broccoli, cauliflower and raspberries.
Morrisons has set a limit of two items per customer across tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and peppers.