With the sun shining much of the time over recent weeks, UK producers are expected to recover relatively quickly from the impact of the freezing conditions seen at the start of the spring.
The combination of labour shortages and a late start to the growing season caused by the 'Beast from the East' pushed up the prices of a range of fresh produce, and although the weather has changed, the challenge of recruiting migrant labour threatens to be a longer-term issue for the hospitality sector in terms of price and availability.
The newly published summer 2018 edition of the Lynx Purchasing Market Forecast spotlights the issues facing the sector. Having seen a 12.5% shortfall in migrant workers in 2017, the National Farmers' Union has warned the government that the recruitment of enough workers for the 2018 picking season is "mission-critical" for UK fruit and veg farmers.
Rachel Dobson, managing director of Lynx Purchasing, says: "The two bursts of freezing weather at the start of spring, with snow on the ground at Easter, not just in the UK, but much of Europe as well, definitely caught growers off-guard. A range of produce, including salads and vegetables, has been affected, but the supply chain has plenty of experience of extreme conditions. Assuming the weather has no more surprises in store, things should have largely caught up by the start of summer.
"The labour issue is potentially much more serious. It's not simply concerns about Brexit - although that is a factor - it's that EU workers now have a wider range of employment options and many have seen wages increase in their own country or can travel somewhere closer to home for seasonal work. There are also concerns that the number of returning workers, who bring skills and experience, has fallen.
"Without enough migrant workers, there's a risk that produce is simply left in the field. Farmers and growers have asked for a commitment from government that they will have access to sufficient numbers of permanent and seasonal workers, and it's an issue which needs a speedy resolution."
The Market Forecast offers an in-depth look at pricing and product trends over the coming months, using exclusive data gathered from the range of suppliers who work with Lynx Purchasing. Product categories highlighted in the latest edition include the following items.
It has been confirmed that the Brexit transition means it will be at least 2020 before the UK fishing fleet gains control over our waters, but with 75% of the current UK catch exported, operators who can broaden the range of fish and shellfish species featured on their menus and specials boards are at a distinct advantage.
Using more UK-caught fish also reduces reliance on imports. For example, Norway supplies around 85% of salmon to the UK foodservice market, and prices have risen in response to strong global demand.
Global availability of cooked and peeled prawns is also forecast to fall by around 6% this year, which will lead to upwards price pressure on this menu staple.
Beef will see a seasonal rise in the price of forequarter cuts of around 15-20% as the summer barbecue season drives up demand for burgers. Caterers who are able to switch their beef menus to cuts such as topside and silverside should get better value.
Lamb prices hit a five-year high this spring as a result of the UK exporting more lamb because of the exchange rate and New Zealand shipping more lamb to East Asia. Pork loins and pork steaks should be better priced than bellies and spare ribs in the summer.
A ban on Brazilian poultry imports into Europe, which was imposed over concerns about the use of fraudulent health certificates by some producers, has seen prices for supplies from areas such as Eastern Europe rise sharply. While these imports are mainly used to manufacture ready meals and similar products, increased demand is expected to mean higher prices for chicken fillets and other cuts for the rest of the year, with turkey also likely to be affected as demand increases towards the festive season.
The 'spring flush', which normally sees milk output rise, was negligible this year due to the cold conditions. Butter and cheese prices are both expected to continue to rise across the summer and into the autumn as lower dairy production in the UK pushes up demand for the cream used in these products.
Fruit and vegetables
The labour issue is likely to affect supplies of salad crops and summer berries. Although the bad weather meant late planting of some produce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and other salad ingredients are expected to be high quality once supplies kick in, with prices stable.
The poor weather also meant that potatoes were planted later than usual in much of Europe, which may start to affect supplies towards the end of the summer. Current supplies of potatoes, carrots, parsnip and swede are coming from the store of last year's crop and are up in price but still good quality and value.
Sharp price increases were initially caused by the loss of much of the crop of vanilla pods in Madagascar due to extreme weather, and the situation has been made worse by unrest in the country over control of the remaining supply. Wholesale prices for vanilla extract - which is in high demand for ice-cream and dessert production - are up by around 30% this year.
A poor crop of apples in 2017 has hit supplies from Poland, Europe's main source of apple juice. Orange and apple juice prices are also facing upward pressure due to increased demand from the US, where hurricane conditions affected domestic supplies.
Global prices have stabilised after a recent fall, and with supplies generally good, the market is expected to remain broadly level. While a good harvest of UK rapeseed would benefit caterers, there is still a glut of used cooking oil for biodiesel, which means very low prices for operators selling used oil.
Dobson concludes: "The inflation rate has fallen back from the high levels seen last year, but with consumers in a very cautious mood in terms of discretionary spending, operators need maximum return on their purchasing investment. Working with suppliers to make the most of summer produce when it's at its best in terms of quality, price and availability, will be key to trading profitably through the next few months."
About Lynx Purchasing
Lynx Purchasing works with more than 2,200 customers in the hospitality and catering sector on a no-membership and no-contract basis that offers like-for-like products at lower prices and often better quality than operators could obtain by negotiating alone.
As purchasing professionals, Lynx works with leading suppliers in the hospitality and catering industry, including wholesalers, specialist fresh food suppliers, catering equipment providers, and utilities and specialist service providers, such as telecoms, business rates consultancy and waste management.
A free Lynx Purchasing guide, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Purchasing Teams, can be downloaded from www.lynxpurchasing.co.uk. Keep up to date with Lynx Purchasing through Tweets by lynxpurchasing and Facebook, or for more information call 01325 377845 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.