Food and drink market update - Mar/Apr 2024

20 March, 2024


While we continue to see inflation slow down month on month, the biggest challenges remain - salmon prices are still high, potato quality and availability challenges are still anticipated in the coming months and beef prices are beginning to creep up.

Market movers:

Fruit and Veg

We are continuing to highlight potatoes as an inflation risk as both quality and potential availability challenges are anticipated for the next few months. Due to the wet winter, harvested potatoes put into storage are deteriorating as time goes on. Quality issues are often only being spotted on the inside of potatoes once they’re cut open.

Lettuce and spring greens are now the main transitional supply period from winter supply from Spain/North Africa to spring supply form the Netherlands. During this time, some reduced life should be expected due to an increase in defects in the tail end of the winter crop and some delicacy and immaturity in the new spring crops.

The persistent wet weather and flooded fields has led to parsnip crops rotting in the ground and diseases, such as canker, spreading shortening the UK season. With imported product not likely to be ready until around the start of May, the UK is facing around a month of availability challenges.

Broccoli, swede, carrots and courgettes are good alternatives to parsnips on menus over the next month until availability stabilises.

The market for avocados continues to be very short as we enter the pinch point of the season, ahead of the larger growing regions in Peru and South Africa reaching full production.

Some of the more specialist cabbage varieties continue to be heavily affected by the wet weather, which has seen gaps in supply as fields cannot be harvested and the product written off.

There are current quality issues with round tomatoes due to the warm weather in Southern Europe/North Africa causing fruit to colour up more quickly on the plant before it reaches the right size. You may need to allow for smaller fruit which is, perversely, delivering better quality.

Plum and speciality tomatoes are also seeing some ongoing quality issues with the product breaking down as it struggles to maintain sufficient shelf-life.

There are supply challenges with berries with raspberries being the worst affected, followed by strawberries and blackberries. There is better news on blueberries, which are currently being sourced from South America and are in very good supply.

There is good news on melons as the vessels that were delayed en route from Central and South America have started to dock in the UK. As we move into the Central American season, the product availability looks to be satisfactory, with the notable exception of Galia melons, where yields are reported to be lower than expected. This could have an impact as we get further into the season.

There are currently size issues on watermelons as they are slightly smaller than usual, quality is still good, but sizing will be monitored.

There has been significant rainfall in Brazil, which has the potential to impact the quality of limes in the coming weeks.

There is good news on grapes as supply has returned to normal following the recent shipping delays.

Fish and Seafood

Farmed salmon has reached a very high price and likely to increase further in the coming months due to
scarcity in supply chain from delayed growth in pens.

Farmed halibut supply, particularly in the larger sizes, has struggled to meet demand. Farms are not seeing
the fish grow and this will likely lead to continuous rises in price.

The mackerel season in the southwest will be delayed this year due to cold weather. Prices will continue to rise until fish migrate up in late spring.

Cod and hake prices have reduced again as normal fishing patterns return. As a result, we recommend chefs put these species on menus before the fish begin to spawn next month which will lead to prices increasing again.

Frozen cod and haddock is ideal to combat the potential deterioration in quality of the fresh lines as they enter the spawning season. Many suppliers are now offering a much broader range of MSC certified frozen cod, so please speak to your Procurement Manager about listing these lines to boost your sustainability credentials.

There are potential issues with shipping of frozen products due to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, however, prices and availability of frozen warmwater prawns have remained competitive on global over-supply, and we do not expect this situation to change. Whether you use prawns in their shells marinated in garlic as a starter, or raw peeled prawns in pastas, they are always popular with customers.

Meat and Poultry

UK beef production and imports were notably low in December 2023 which is having a knock-on effect on
supply and pricing. There has been a lack of females breeding leading to deadweight cattle prices reaching all-time highs as there is limited cattle in the market.

We recommend switching from beef to more cost-effective proteins like chicken or pork to keep cost down. This shift not only offers financial advantages but also contributes to a more sustainable protein choice with beef having the largest CO2 emissions in comparison to other proteins.

UK pork prices continue to fall week-on-week, but this decline is steady. Production levels remain lower than last year; the UK produced 927400t of pig meat during 2023 which is an 11% year on year decline, the lowest annual volume since 2018. This is likely to result in a very challenging year for the UK pork industry.

Lamb prices will now continue to rise gradually until the new season lamb arrives where the price will hit its peak and then start to decline gradually as per the usual seasonal trend.


Milk prices have stayed relatively steady for the past couple of months but we are starting to see slight
increases in the market now due to a dip in milk production in January, brought on by the wet weather.

The returns for dairy products in the EU are contributing to the slight price upturn.

We are now coming into the spring flush, which refers to a seasonal boost in milk production during spring
linked to the reproductive and lactation cycles of dairy cows. With longer days and better weather, cows graze on nutrient-rich pasture, enhancing their milk production. The extent of the spring flush production
should have a positive impact on milk prices in coming months.

UK Key Market Movers (CPI)

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) is a key measure of inflation in the UK. Movements in CPI give a high level overview of the key categories experiencing inflation. Below is a monthly snapshot of the top food commodity price inflation movements impacting the UK. The data is from Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Percentage change over 12 months:

  • Oils and fats - 8.3%
  • Sugar, jam syrups, chocolate and confectionery - 8.1%
  • Vegetables - 6.3%
  • Bread and cereals - 6.0%
  • Meat - 5.0%
  • Fruit - 4.7%
  • Milk, cheese and eggs - 0.4%
  • Fish - 0.1%

Sources: Foodbuy, ONS, A David UK, Birtwhistles UK, Mintel.

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