Food and drink market update - Dec 2023

27 November, 2023


Food inflation has eased slightly in month-on-month movement, yet the overall landscape presents a varied picture, and as we approach the Christmas period, we traditionally witness 'seasonal inflation', adding another layer of complexity to the current economic landscape.

Recent outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Romania and Bulgaria are causing concerns in the poultry industry. The spread of avian influenza raises worries about disruptions in supply chains and higher food prices, adding to the seasonal upturn of the disease in Europe.

Poland, the largest poultry producer in the EU, has also been impacted, potentially affecting exports to the UK. Vigilance and containment measures are crucial to mitigate the impact of avian influenza on poultry populations and prevent wider repercussions on the industry and food supply chains.

In addition, Storm Ciaran has had a catastrophic impact on cauliflower crops, leading to significant damage and concerns about stock shortages and price increases in the cauliflower market. Farmers face challenges in rebuilding operations due to widespread destruction of crops and agricultural structures.

Moreover, disruptions in tropical fruits supply chains are attributed to adverse conditions affecting shipping routes and transportation logistics. Stakeholders in the industry may need to navigate challenges in maintaining regular inventory levels, emphasising the vulnerability of the supply chain to external factors.

The notable and continuing increase in prices for extra virgin olive oil has been driven by two consecutive poor harvests, resulting in a shortfall in availability. The situation highlights the vulnerability of the olive oil market to the unpredictability of harvest conditions and underscores the need for careful monitoring and strategic planning in response to fluctuations in availability and pricing.

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.

November 2023 - Percentage change over 12 months

  • Sugar, jam, syrups, chocolate and confectionery - 13.2%
  • Breads and cereals - 12.2%
  • Oils and fats - 10.9%
  • Vegetables - 10.8%
  • Meat - 9.0%
  • Milk, cheese and eggs - 7.9%
  • Fruit - 5.6%
  • Fish - 5.5%

Source: Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Key price movements by category:

Fruits & Vegetables

As the soft fruit season concludes in the UK, the focus now shifts to European suppliers. Notably, strawberries and blackberries are making their way from Belgium and Holland, while raspberries and blueberries are predominantly sourced from Morocco and Portugal, maintaining a high-quality standard.

It is important to highlight that the availability of strawberries has been adversely affected by both poor yields and over harvesting during the summer in Holland and Belgium. Additionally, the low volumes from Spain, Egypt, and Morocco have contributed to availability issues, consequently resulting in escalated prices for this product.

Tip: Given the challenges associated with the availability and price hikes of strawberries, we suggest opting for blueberries, raspberries and blackberries as suitable alternatives.

While UK apples will remain available in substantial volumes throughout November and December, the grape supply has transitioned to Southern Hemisphere products, signaling a potential firming up of prices.

The festive period is marked by the arrival of Spanish satsumas, with Spain also contributing pomegranates from the Alicante province. Anticipation surrounds the upcoming Spanish supply of oranges, although there is a note of caution due to approximately 30% lower crops compared to last year. Issues related to greening, likely stemming from recent hot weather, may contribute to potential stock shortages in the coming weeks.

Challenges are also emerging in the quality and shelf life of Northern Hemisphere pears. While not expected to be a major concern during the festive period, there could be potential issues moving into January.

Adding to the complexities, recent storms in the UK have led to significant disruptions in shipping, impacting the timely arrival of crops from growers. Pineapples, in particular, along with bananas, are experiencing multiple delays, creating challenges in the supply chain. The adverse weather conditions are causing havoc for shipping logistics, raising concerns about potential short-term delays in the availability of these tropical fruits.

A variety of UK squash is expected to be available in the market, including Spaghetti Squash, Red Onion Squash, Green Kobacha, and Acorn Squash.

Concerns persist regarding the potato situation as more growers face challenges in harvesting the crop. Current estimates suggest that 20% of crops have been compromised due to adverse weather conditions. This issue is likely to intensify around April or May next year.

Sprouts became available last month, and growers are witnessing an increase in volumes. Additionally, rainbow chard and fresh horseradish can be found at a great quality and fair price.

The cauliflower market continues to face challenges with minimal supply in the open market. Harvested quantities are quickly acquired by contracted volumes. This scarcity is evident in some retailers grappling with restricted volumes and empty store shelves. However, market conditions are anticipated to improve shortly.

The last of the UK tenderstem broccoli crops is currently being harvested or has concluded, leading to availability issues. Recent storms have contributed to a slowdown in crop growth, further exacerbating the situation. Limited volumes from Spain are expected until December.

The past weeks have proven challenging for tomatoes, but there are signs of improvement. Harvesting has commenced in Spain, the Canary Islands, and Morocco, easing market pressure, although Morocco and Spain are slightly behind schedule. Beef tomatoes continue to present challenges, with expectations of further difficulties in the next couple of weeks.

Looking ahead, consider exploring banana shallots, mixed mushrooms, and the diverse range of beets available.

Moreover, a variety of products are readily available, particularly suited for winter salads. Fresh produce like celery, chicory, radicchio, kohlrabi, and spinach offers excellent affordability. The conclusion of the Dutch season last month has led to the current supply originating from Spain and Morocco, with occasional pockets of Egyptian supply. Early indications are positive, with ample volumes and high-quality products.

After several weeks of adverse reports concerning lettuce, there is positive news. Cos and little gem lettuce are recovering from the impact of strong winds in Spain. Though there is still progress to be made, the quality has significantly improved. Iceberg, lollo rosso, oakleaf, and endive have fully transitioned to imported sources, with both quality and volumes meeting favourable standards.

Italy recently experienced a sudden cold snap, with temperatures dropping significantly. This abrupt change has led to a dramatic reduction in the growth rate of baby leaves. Consequently, there may be some stock shortages over the next weeks in this category.

It's noteworthy that peppers will have a more rustic appearance compared to the well-defined look of products from Holland.

Herbs: chive availability has improved as suppliers source from multiple regions. Quality issues are reported with mint, coriander, and tarragon, prompting regular checks to address any concerns. Market challenges persist with Italian herbs due to adverse weather conditions.

Fresh Fish, Frozen Fish and Seafood


Recognising the winter volatility across various fish species poses challenges in predicting price trends. Fishing activity is anticipated to decrease in late December, with a full resumption expected by mid-January. December and January typically witness a rise in salmon prices due to reduced harvest volumes, prompting the suggestion to explore alternatives to mitigate potential price hikes. Considering frozen options for order fulfillment, particularly in adverse weather, is advisable. Maintaining flexibility in selecting white fish for fish and chips is also recommended.

Sea Bass & Gilthead Bream

Farmed sea bass, available in sizes up to 1kg, are abundant for December. However, quantities above 1kg are limited due to slower winter growth. Similarly, gilthead bream up to 600g are well-supplied, but prices for fish exceeding 600g are anticipated to rise due to the sluggish winter growth. Despite the expected reduction in biomass levels in the New Year, sea bass and gilthead bream remain a cost-effective choice.


The last three months have witnessed robust prices for salmon, driven by processors freezing down product during lower prices in August. This increased demand led to unexpected price spikes in September and October. While prices have eased since then, adverse weather conditions, notably Storm Babet and Storm Ciaran, have kept Scottish fish prices high.

Stable prices are anticipated until the last two weeks of December, after which a potential increase is expected. The cooler waters in January lead to less active fish, prompting farmers to lower harvests and maintain higher prices. Predictions suggest around a 10% increase in January, with potential for more in February.


ChalkStream® trout remains a reliable choice for the winter, with minimal price increases despite higher fuel surcharges. Farmers assure consistent supply, making it an excellent alternative to salmon.

Smaller rainbow trout from new farms offer good options, with expected availability throughout winter. Sea-reared trout, while likely to be well-supplied in December and the following year, might see a 6% price increase in January, following salmon price trends.


No supply issues are anticipated for farmed halibut over the next three months. Steady prices and good availability are expected, barring increases in fuel surcharges.

Other Farmed Species

A slight price increase for farmed meagre is expected due to slower growth in winter. Farmed turbot faces a shortage in Europe, making it advisable to avoid, with halibut serving as a suitable alternative.

Flat fish, such as plaice, lemon soles, and Dover soles, may experience price fluctuations due to spawning seasons and fishing effort reduction. Brill and turbot are likely to fetch higher prices during the festive period.

White Fish

Winter promises excellent quality for cod and haddock, with good yields. Smaller fish may see increases due to reduced landings caused by winter weather. Larger cod is expected to remain stable, while 340g+ haddock fillets might see reductions.

Coley emerges as a sustainable and cost-effective choice, with hake prices high and potentially increasing. UK pollack may rise in price, but sustainability concerns may discourage its inclusion on menus.

Tip: White fish is best to be avoided until we begin to see the benefits of the boats switching to the haddock catch next month, and prices reduce accordingly.

Local mackerel remains in season and abundant until the season closes at the end of the month and farmed Sea Bass has eased in price reflecting
available bio-mass - both species would be great options on winter menus.

Round Fish

Monkfish prices will likely inflate due to high demand, with expectations of lowering prices in mid-January when fishing resumes. December poses challenges for mackerel availability, but prices may become competitive in January.

Gurnard is in season, but careful sourcing is necessary. Locally caught sardines may be available depending on weather conditions.


Native squid, octopus, and cuttlefish remain unchanged in ratings, with one key species downgraded to a 5. MSC certified squid and octopus tentacles offer alternative options.


Tuna and swordfish availability is expected to remain steady over the next few months, with demand for native species stabilising in December. Super-frozen tuna is ideal for raw applications.


Canadian lobsters are firm in price, peaking in December, but potential increases in January and February due to demand during Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day. Native lobsters may see reduced availability as temperatures drop. Native scallops will rise in price in December, with a stable supply of MSC certified roe-less scallop meat from the USA.

Mussels and oysters are in season, with mussels potentially facing short availability over Christmas. A short crab supplier shutdown over Christmas will result in increased stock of pasteurised products.

Smoked Fish

Smoked salmon prices are expected to be stable in December but may rise in the New Year. Alternatives like smoked sea-reared trout or ChalkStream® trout can add variety.

Prawns & Crayfish

Prawns and crayfish in brine may see small price increases over the next three months due to rising raw material prices and increased fuel surcharges.

Frozen Fish & Seafood

Frozen prices remain stable, providing options during the winter's volatility. Frozen pollock, cod fillets, and trout portions offer cost-effective alternatives. Frozen red snapper portions face availability issues, with frozen fillets or alternatives like red mullet or tilapia suggested. Warm-water prawns are well-supplied, while fish cakes, including gluten-free options, present simple and popular choices.



  • Cattle prices have risen, exceeding 4.90/kg.
  • Focus on preferred autumn cuts in retail sales.
  • Topsides and silversides in demand as colder weather approaches.
  • Prime steaks, especially fillets, remain high in demand.
  • Fuel prices have increased, affecting fertilizer costs.
  • Beef production has slightly decreased.
  • Slaughter levels expected to rise for Christmas.
  • Beef exports slightly up but lag behind last year.
  • The UK may be indirectly affected by disruptions in Brazil's trading dynamics.


  • Pig prices have slightly declined, with the EU Standard Pig Price (SPP) dropping to 220.12p/kg, influenced by reduced domestic demand.
  • GB pig prices are impacted by falling consumer demand and industry restructuring, potentially making EU products more attractive.
  • The overall cost of inputs has eased from last autumn/winter peaks, potentially improving net margins for farmers.
  • The pig population is at its lowest since 2011, with numbers falling by almost half a million since June 2022.
  • Decline attributed to a substantial fall in the numbers of fattening pigs, reflecting historically low slaughter throughputs and pig meat production volumes in 2023.
  • While a return to 2021 levels is not expected, a positive trajectory in demand and producer net margins may bring some growth for pork farmers.
  • The industry could experience a welcome recovery, particularly after 10 consecutive quarters of loss making.


  • The deadweight price for UK lamb averaged 549.7p/kg in the week ending October 22, reaching a peak of 570.5p/kg mid-month before easing to 556.7p/kg.
  • Despite the decline, the monthly average remained 46p higher compared to October 2022.
  • Growing demand for seasonal lamb cuts, especially racks and lamb rumps, particularly in the hospitality sector.
  • Export focus on haunches and promotional activities in EU supermarkets, particularly for saddles, poses challenges for the hospitality sector in terms of volume availability and pricing.
  • UK sheep meat production for September 2023 amounted to 22,700 tonnes, reflecting a 7% decline compared to August, attributed to a reduction in slaughtering activities.
  • Sheep meat import volumes in August surpassed 2022 rates for the first time this year, driven by increased imports from New Zealand and Australia due to competitive prices.
  • Export levels increased by 21% since the previous month, reaching 6,400 tonnes, surpassing last year's export levels by 8%.
  • Saddles, chops, and lamb racks are expected to maintain elevated prices due to limited UK lamb supply, while lamb shanks are reserved for export as haunches. The imported market shows no immediate signs of change.

Tip: We suggest reducing lamb dishes on menus and consider more cost-effective alternatives such as beef, chicken or pork.

If using lamb, we recommend cheaper cuts, for example switch from a lamb leg to a lamb shoulder.


  • Significant achievement for the UK poultry industry with market access secured to Japan, potential to generate over £10 million in the next five years.
  • Despite Avian Influenza outbreaks imposing restrictions on UK poultry exports to Japan, the new market access agreement marks a positive step forward, highlighting the quality of UK poultry products.
  • The UK poultry supply remains robust, meeting strong demand from the foodservice sector.
  • Thigh meat and wings continue to be prominent, and adjustments in throughputs are anticipated to maintain stability in prices for both UK and EU poultry.
  • In the EU poultry market, chicken production is forecasted to grow by 2% from 2019 through 2024.

The intense droughts across the Mediterranean have impacted olive oil production due to crop damage and lack of availability, which is causing prices to reach record levels. Pomace oil is extracted from olive pulp, so this has been impacted by the knock-on effects.

Tip: Where possible, we recommend switching to cold pressed rapeseed oil or reviewing the use of olive oil products on menus and within recipes.

Sources: A David UK, Birtwistles UK, Direct Seafood UK, Dole UK, Foodbuy.

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