Asda and Morrisons are putting limits on purchases of some fruit and vegetables as supermarkets face shortages of fresh produce.
Asda said it was capping sales of items such as tomatoes, peppers and lettuce at three each per customer.
Morrisons said limits of two on products like cucumbers would be introduced at stores from Tuesday.
However Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Lidl, Aldi, Waitroseand Marks & Spencer currently do not have limits in place.
Pictures of empty supermarket shelves have been circulating on social media, after shoppers found it hard to get some items in recent days.
The shortages – which are affecting Ireland too – are largely the result of extreme weather in Spain and north Africa, where floods, snow and hail have affected harvests.
During this time of year, a significant proportion of what the UK consumes usually comes from those regions.
The shortages are only expected to last “a few weeks” until the UK growing season begins and retailers find alternative sources of supply, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said.
Andrew Opie, director of Food and Sustainability at the trade group, added that supermarkets are “adept at managing supply chain issues and are working with farmers to ensure that customers are able to access a wide range of fresh produce”.
As well as tomatoes, peppers and lettuce, Asda said it was also limiting sales of salad bags, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflowers and raspberry punnets.
“Like other supermarkets, we are experiencing sourcing challenges on some products that are grown in southern Spain and north Africa,” a spokesperson said.
Morrisons said as well that cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and peppers were affected at its shops.
Marks & Spencer said it was not immune from supply issues but had mitigated them by sourcing from different markets.
Unusually cold weather in southern Spain has affected the supply of some fresh produce, while in Morocco floods have affected yields and storms have led to ferries being delayed or cancelled.
In the winter months the UK imports around 95% of its tomatoes and 90% of its lettuces, most of it from the affected region, according to the BRC.
Meanwhile in the UK and Netherlands, farmers have cut back on their use of greenhouses to grow winter crops due to higher electricity prices.
Nigel Jenney, chief executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium, which represents around 700 businesses said costs from fuel, energy, packaging and distribution costs were also having an impact on producers.
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said more support should be provided for the UK’s horticulture sector, which was not included in the government’s support scheme for energy intensive industries.
“The situation seems ridiculous. The Royal Botanical Gardens, as important as they are, qualify for the scheme. But the protected crop sector – those growing tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines and peppers to feed British families – don’t,” she told the NFU’s annual conference on Tuesday.
Farming minister, Mark Spencer, said the shortages were the result of “weather events in other parts of the world” rather than the challenges facing UK producers.
‘It’s not Brexit’
Anecdotal evidence suggests the UK has been bearing the brunt of the shortages, but problems have also been reported in Ireland.
Tesco Ireland said its stock levels were temporarily affected, while the locally-owned chain SuperValu has also reported problems.
Industry sources suggested the UK may be suffering because of lower domestic production and more complex supply chains, as well as a price-sensitive market. But they said Brexit was unlikely to be a factor.
The main impact of new border procedures for fruit and vegetable imports will not be felt until January 2024 – while imports from Morocco, which is outside the EU, are already subject to border checks.
Ken Mortimer, managing director of Heritage Fine Food Company in Wiltshire, a wholesaler which supplies restaurants, cafes and schools in the south west of England, said many UK businesses have contracts to buy fixed quantities of imported produce.
But when they need more, they have to buy it on the open market and prices have been prohibitively high.
“It’s not Brexit”, says Mr Mortimer “Or at least, I don’t think so”.