Food and drink market update - March 2024

16 February, 2024


The food and drink industry in the UK has faced various challenges, from weather-related crop issues to supply chain disruptions.

While reports indicate a decrease in unrest related to farming strikes in France, attention is focused on localised strikes in Spain. Plus, recent Atlantic storms persist in disrupting sea freight, impacting a range of products including grapes, melons, and limes. Efforts to circumvent these challenges involve ongoing detours to avoid the Red Sea wherever possible.

Additionally, the ever-changing and intense weather patterns in the UK over the past year have posed a significant challenge to root crops, particularly potatoes. The effects of these challenges linger long after the harvest season due to the annual nature of potato cultivation.

The 2023 UK potato harvest exhibits noticeable signs of deterioration while retaining its visual appeal, with diseases such as hollow heart and internal bruising more prevalent than usual. Adverse weather conditions in 2023 delayed the planting season for root crops, with unseasonably dry weather followed by heavy rains during the critical growth period and harvest season, resulting in significant portions of the crop remaining unharvested.

Projections for the 2023 potato yield anticipate a marked reduction of 30% from 2017, reaching the lowest production level recorded in the UK. Concerns regarding seed potato quality for the 2024 harvest loom large, potentially impacting future yield forecasts.

In response to domestic potato production challenges, suppliers are importing new season Mediterranean crops from Cyprus, Egypt, Italy, and France to maintain quality standards. Initial shipments are slated from mid to late April, extending through July. While this move incurs additional costs and may lead to price hikes, it ensures a steady supply and quality until the UK harvest arrives in late July or August. Collaborative efforts with suppliers are underway to navigate these weather and market conditions while prioritising quality standards.

Therefore, businesses need to adapt strategies to ensure consistent supply, maintain quality, and navigate price fluctuations in the market. Close collaboration with suppliers and proactive measures can help mitigate the impact of these challenges.

Key price movements by category:

Fruits & Vegetables

Supply issues for red and black seedless grapes have been resolved, with the quality of the produce deemed satisfactory.

Shipping of watermelon has experienced delays, resulting in slightly smaller fruit to ensure continued supply. Despite this, the quality remains good, albeit with a reduction in size. Yields may be affected for single fruits.

There also have been shipping and supply challenges for pomegranates due to unrest related to farming strikes in France and localised strikes in Spain. Efforts are being made by suppliers to mitigate delays, although some impacts on melon arrivals from Central and South America have been noted.

The quality of both Spanish and Moroccan tomato crops has been affected by plant viruses and overcast weather conditions, resulting in reduced shelf life. Some fruits are particularly delicate and prone to breakdown, while others may exhibit under-colouring. Checks for quality have been intensified, urging consumers to use them quickly and avoid prolonged storage.

Red and yellow peppers of Spanish origin have been impacted by rains and overcast weather, leading to a reduction in shelf life for both red and yellow varieties. Consumers are advised to use them promptly and avoid prolonged storage.

Asparagus of Mexican origin is now available, boasting good quality, with previous issues successfully resolved.

As the UK crop of Savoy cabbage approaches its last month, some weather damage to outer leaves has been observed. Heads may be stripped back as necessary. Hispi cabbage is recommended as a suitable green alternative.

French-origin cauliflower is back in supply, with improved curd sizes and overall quality, resolving previous issues.

Additionally, seasonal produce such as Yorkshire forced rhubarb, carrots, and parsnips are available, along with Scottish swedes and Lincolnshire white and red cabbages.

Ambient & Dairy

Poor weather conditions in Spain this year have not only impacted fresh produce but also in turn canned goods too.

Canned goods suppliers are struggling with availability of artichokes from Spain which is anticipated to last until spring next year as the last of available stock is currently being purchased.

Olives continue to be affected by crop damage and lack of availability with crops down by at least half. This is impacting all olive-based products including extra virgin olive oil and pomace oil.

Additionally, the disruptions in shipments caused by the Suez Canal conflict, alongside increases in living wages and planting delays across the EU, are anticipated to sustain inflationary pressures on manufacturers throughout Q1 2024.

Farmers deliberately restrict milk production, causing prices for both milk and dairy-related goods to rise, while butter prices remain elevated due to low stock levels and heightened demand during the Christmas period.

Tip: Given the upward trend of price in the butter market we recommend, where possible, transitioning to margarine for baking and spreading to mitigate cost increases.


Beef & Lamb:

  • Deadweight prices are close to reaching the all time highs seen in May 2023. This is largely due to the contraction of UK female breeding herds which is tightening the supply of GB cattle whilst demand remains firm. Prices are expected to stabilise around these all time high prices for the next four to six months.
  • UK cattle prices continue upward trend, exceeding £4.90/kg, with average prices at £4.94/kg.
  • New EU border policies cause delays; all South American beef to be directly imported to the UK, leading to supply constraints and price hikes.
  • 2023 saw steady prices for new season lamb, although slaughter numbers fell by c. 6% in 2023 vs. 2022. The wet weather also meant that finishing time is longer due to poor forage, therefore we expect prices to remain firm in Q1 2024.
  • GB NSL deadweight SQQ averaged 587.1 pence/kg in December.
  • Lamb prices started at 585.8 pence/kg, dipped mid-month by 1.5 pence/kg, then rebounded to 598.4 pence/kg.


  • Pig production was down approximately 10% in 2023, significantly impacting costs with increases of c. 30% vs. 2022. Pricing has stabilised since September 2023 but with the shortage of pigs expected to continue in 2024, prices may start trending upwards again afterQ1.
  • Standard Pig Price (SPP) for EU specifications at 214.65 pence/kg, down by 0.40 pence.
  • All Pigs Price (APP) for EU specifications also declining, reaching 215.5 pence/kg, following overall trend since end of September.
  • EU reference price for week ending December 17th: 181.86 pence/kg, dropping by 0.63 pence.


  • Poultry prices have remained relatively flat during 2023, but lower feed costs are expected to aid market growth in 2024.
  • UK Poultry current pricing influenced by supply and demand dynamics, with a decline this month due to softened demand.
  • Anticipated resurgence in demand in February, prompting adjustments in slaughtering rates by producers to maintain carcass availability balance, a key factor in preferred cuts pricing.
  • All imported poultry passes through the EU, potentially causing delays due to new Health Certification regulations.
  • No reports of high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) H5 clade in UK domestic poultry since December 18th assessment.
  • Launch of first stage of new Border Policy on January 31st introduces post-Brexit checks on EU imports, including health certification.
Fish & Seafood

Bass & Bream: Quality will start to diminish as both species start to roe and stocks start to reduce so they are best avoided over the current month.

Clams: The new season of local clams doesn’t start until the end of March so suppliers are relying heavily on imports which has increased prices.

Salmon: Short days for harvesting, winter sores and jellyfish blooms have driven salmon prices up. Additionally, demand has increased, with the US turning to Norwegian supply instead of their usual Chilean stock.

Tip: Cod and Haddock are becoming more plentiful, so we should start to see prices ease over the coming months, making these great white fish options for seasonal menus.

Sources: Birtwhistles UK, Foodbuy UK, Oliver Kay UK.

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