Shoppers hoping to turn to turnips amid a national vegetable shortage may be frustrated as many supermarkets don’t carry them.
Environment Secretary Therese Coffey has urged the public to “appreciate” British “specialities” such as turnips, after admitting shortages of some fruit and vegetables could last another month.
But it turns out that turnips have fallen out of favor with the public, with some of the country’s largest supermarkets revealing that they no longer carry them and encouraging shoppers to buy turnips instead.
Dr Coffey sparked controversy with her suggestion that shoppers could make the most of “British specialties” such as turnips, while supermarkets place limits on sales of imported fruit and vegetables after shortages.
With growers saying salad greens like tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce could still be in short supply until June, instead of two to four weeks as Dr Coffey claims, both the cooperative and Tesco said they were no longer selling turnips.
As it turns out, the turnip has fallen out of favor with the public, with some of the largest supermarkets in the country revealing that they no longer carry them.
Environment Secretary Therese Coffey urged the public to ‘appreciate’ British ‘specialities’ such as turnips after admitting shortages of some fruit and vegetables could last another month.
Tesco called it a ‘legacy vegetable’ and said it offered Swedish customers instead.
Asda indicated that the turnips were not available on their website, but both Waitrose and Sainsbury’s offered the vegetable online. Morrisons said that he sold turnips loose in his larger stores and that he had no problem with the supply.
Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association, said turnips were a “relatively minor crop”, with many going to processors and animal feed. Mr Ward disagreed with Dr Coffey’s prediction that the current shortage would last a maximum of two to four weeks, saying it would probably be much longer for some products.
The government and industry have blamed cold and freezing weather in Spain and North Africa for reduced imports, while UK growers said high energy prices meant they planted less in greenhouses over winter. .
Mr Ward said: “I think we will see a shortage of vegetables across the board, including carrots and leeks, until early June.”
“With cucumbers, people just haven’t planted them because they’re waiting for the weather to improve so they don’t incur massive energy costs.”
He added: ‘It’s relatively easy to explain. What we are seeing is the result of a very, very dry hot summer.
“Certain crops, like carrots, would have been growing, but due to the drought, we haven’t had the volumes we expected.
“They would be in the ground now and that will affect the supply of carrots until June, so we’ll probably see carrots running low, and there’s a problem with leeks for exactly the same reason.”
Asda indicated that the turnips were not available on their website, but both Waitrose and Sainsbury’s offered the vegetable online.
A sign limiting customers to three items each is seen next to empty boxes in the tomato and pepper section of a Tesco store
A leading vegetable growers group, the Lea Valley Growers Association, said some of the UK’s major growers are delaying planting due to high energy costs.
The 80-member group represents the UK’s salad powerhouse, an area that covers Greater London, Hertfordshire and Essex and produces around three-quarters of the UK’s cucumbers and peppers, as well as plenty of aubergines and tomatoes.
His secretary, Lee Stiles, said high energy costs and supermarkets offering low prices to growers mean growing the vegetables is increasingly wasteful and supplies will be tight for several more months.
Turnips aren’t the only root vegetable championed by leading conservatives amid shortages.
A Conservative MP suggested that the public eat British-grown parsnips and leeks, but leek growers also warned that supplies were tight.
Sir Robert Goodwill, chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, told BBC Radio 4: ‘We don’t have that seasonality that we used to. And certainly, if people are on a budget, they know that homegrown produce in season is very profitable.
“Strawberries aren’t available UK-grown at this time of year, but when they come in season, you know they taste so much better. There’s a lot of good produce, there’s good UK-grown parsnips, there’s leeks.
Nit Tim Casey, president of the Leek Growers Association, said: ‘Leek growers are facing the most difficult season in their history due to difficult weather conditions.
‘Our members are seeing yields drop between 15 and 30 per cent.
“We predict supplies of homegrown leeks will dry up in April, with no British leeks available in stores through May and June, and consumers will have to rely on imported crops.”