Fierce competition from supermarkets for home-grown produce could cause food prices to surge, as Iceland’s volcanic ash cloud continues to disrupt air traffic across Europe.
Air freight carrying perishable food supplies to the UK stopped when air traffic restrictions were put in place last Thursday morning. Having only been partially lifted, there are fears shortages of air-freighted food and pressure on local supply may lead to a scramble for available stocks.
Hospitality operators, already reeling from the costs of a prolonged winter and levies on fuel duty, face a fresh hike in foods prices.
But according to Cyrus Todiwala, chef patron of Café Spice Namaste, cost-conscious customers simply aren’t prepared to pay more. “We can’t raise the menu prices – we’ll have to take the hit ourselves,” he said.
Beacon Purchasing director Chris Durant, agreed adding: “It doesn’t take long for something like this to hit businesses through the supply chain and it will ultimately have a knock-on impact to an already fragile economy as a whole.”
While advocates of seasonal cooking might welcome a forced move to buy British products as they become available, there are concerns that demand will outstrip supply and that major supermarket chains will elbow the hospitality industry out of the way.
Damian Fowler, director at fruit and vegetables supplier Gilgrove, said: “It is pushing us back into seasonality, but will there be enough to go round? The supermarkets are drawing on larger quantities of English produce making less available for the wholesale markets.”
However the contract catering sector has claimed it is largely unaffected by supply chain issues. Sodexo, Elior and Aramark, and independent caterers BaxterStorey and Charlton House have all reacted by tweaking their menus, and a representative from Compass Group said it was “business as usual at the firm.”
The impact on growers may also impact food prices long term, if independent growers go under as a result of the flight ban crisis. Terry Cook of The Cook Consultancy told Caterer that growers will be stuck with stockpiles of perishable goods unless they can sell their product in their home market.
Durant added: “The impact on the society and the producers in these poorer countries is significant. It’s far more worrying than whether we can source fine beans.”
By Janie Stamford
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