Colruyt, Delhaize, Plus, AH and Jumbo

Update: Retailers react to dry, hot weather: vegetable situation is fragile

Farmers everywhere in Europe are working overtime to keep things growing. This is due to the persistent, extreme weather conditions. Are they doing enough to keep the supermarkets stocked? Last week, according to the Fresh produce monitor, a basket of 25 popular fresh fruit and vegetables was not complete at all supermarkets. Dutch supermarket chain, Albert Heijn (AH) is calling the situation fragile. The Belgian supermarket group, Colruyt, has announced that the weather has not yet had a major impact on their fresh fruit and vegetable assortment. Rony Neufkens, Head of Purchasing for fresh produce at this chain, suspects that this situation will change this week. Here is an overview of the different supermarkets.

Colruyt posted on Facebook that it was nice to spend extra time in the cool fruit and vegetable section during the hot weather.

"So far, we have seen a minimal impact on the availability of products. The sunny weather has actually stimulated the growth of, for instance, tomatoes. This has led to a large, low-priced supply. Plants can, however, only give so much. At some point, they become exhausted. I suspect that moment will arrive soon enough", says buyer, Rony Neufkens. There are more problems with the availability of full soil vegetables than those from greenhouses. "Last week we noticed problems with the fennel supplies. The supply of cauliflower and broccoli is also not simple. It has been difficult with iceberg lettuce for a while. It has, however, been possible to source these locally up to now. Now and then, we had to buy in from the Netherlands."

The consequences of the weather conditions on fruit and stored apples will only be seen in the future. "We are switching to the first Belgian apples later than usual. It is expected that there will be 30 - 40% less availability than other years. Currently, we still have Spanish imported apples in stock. This nice hot weather is not doing the sale of apples any good. We are, however, expecting to switch over to the first of the Belgian apples this week", says Rony.

Colruyt's purchasing policy is focused on firstly acquiring Belgian products. These must be of sufficiently available and of sufficient quality. "We have contract agreements with growers for a few products. We buy a lot at Belgian auctions. However, we are also in close contact with farmers to stay as well informed as possible. We analyse what we might need per product or product group. We do this to be able to anticipate changes due to the weather conditions as well as possible. As we said, up to now, most products have been readily available. This is because prices have remained low. I do, however, expect this to change this week", Rony says.

Delhaize expects it to be harder to source potatoes once the Belgian season starts in September. "The tubers are growing more slowly because of the dry weather. There is, therefore, a higher risk of quality issues as well as of smaller potatoes. Furthermore, there are difficulties with open field vegetable such as cauliflower, leeks, and fennel. Growth has been delayed. Farmers are trying their best to replenish their stocks. They are, however, hampered by governmental restrictions." This is according to Delhaize's External Communication Manager, Roel Delkelver.

Belgian sourcing is still possible, but the situation is being closely monitored, says this spokesperson from Delhaize. It would also seem that the weather conditions might make it difficult for some farmers to supply the required volumes at the desired specifications. "If this is the case, we will consult with the grower. We will discuss to what extent the specifications can be adjusted or we will look for the volumes elsewhere", he says. The current situation has also had no impact on prices. "We estimate that there will be an impact on prices. Here, we are thinking, firstly, of full soil vegetables, pears of a certain size, strawberries, and salads. Regarding sales prices, we are following the Belgian market", concludes Roel.

PLUS supermarkets from the Netherlands have noticed that there are problems with the supply of full soil vegetables and leafy greenhouse crops. "One has to do with the dry weather. The other, with scorching in the greenhouse. Products like bell peppers and cucumbers also do not cope well with the extreme heat in the greenhouses. We have not switched to overseas producers. The Netherlands is currently the production country in Europe. Moreover, the rest of Northern Europe is experiencing the same problem", says Debbie Huisman of PLUS. 

"We have contracts with suppliers (and they, in turn, with growers) to supply us with fixed amounts. We, however, also understand that this is an extreme situation. We are doing everything we can, along with our suppliers, to meet the needs of our customers. We have encouraged our suppliers to proactively inform us about the situation on the fields and in the greenhouses. We have also asked them to give us a minimum of 24 hours notice if there are any changes. This is in case adjustments need to be made to current specifications due to unforeseen circumstances. Then, together, we see if there are other possibilities. As far as we are concerned, there are always other possibilities," she says.

It is not yet clear if the weather will affect consumer prices. "Everything is not yet clear", says Debbie. "The consequences of the extreme circumstances in the Netherlands will become clearly evident in the market in the coming month. We are expecting higher prices for certain products."

AH and Jumbo
The availability of vegetables is on the fragile side. This is according to Pauline van den Brandhof, Albert Heijn's External Communications Manager. This is especially true for lamb's lettuce, wintercress, and endive. "Growth is moderate, and farmers have to irrigate a lot to keep these plants growing."

Jumbo is another Dutch supermarket chain. They have noticed that the dry weather has caused delays in many products for both fruit and vegetables. As yet, however, there are no shortages on the market. "Besides availability, there might also be problems with quality. Especially when it comes to the products' shelf life. Consequences will depend on how long this dry weather will still continue. This is making it difficult to be specific and anticipate the results. We find it difficult to predict whether, and what, consumers can experience because of these conditions," says Jumbo's spokesperson, Jeske Bleeker.

"We have pre-determined specifications with our growers for all our products. This is per product. These requirements are based on size, quality, country of origin, class, and so on. Is there more availability of a certain size product outside of our specifications? We might then, in close consultation with our suppliers, deviate from these stipulations", she concludes.

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