Market Report & Update - March 2023
As we enter the month of March, we find ourselves in the midst of a highly turbulent period in the fresh produce industry. The last year has been marked by unprecedented challenges, from production and distribution cost increases to severe weather events, that have had a significant impact on the availability, quality, and price of fresh produce.
Despite these challenges, we remain committed to providing our customers with the highest quality fresh produce at competitive prices. The team have been working tirelessly to navigate these turbulent times, and are working closely with our suppliers to mitigate the impact of these challenges on our operations.
Despite the challenges facing the fresh produce industry, there is some cause for optimism as we enter the month of March. With the arrival of spring, we are beginning to see seasonal delights such as Wild Garlic and Barba di Frate (Monk’s Beard) arriving into our fridges. These incredible ingredients are eagerly awaited by suppliers and chefs alike and remind us why we love what we do!
As part of our commitment to meeting the needs of our customers, we are continuously expanding our range of products to include high-quality dry goods and ambient items. In our monthly update, we are excited to showcase our newest products which have been carefully curated by our team to ensure that we offer the best possible selection.
We appreciate your continued trust and support as we navigate this challenging period together and as always, we’re here to help in any way that we can.
Monk's Beard, also known as Barba di Frate in Italian, is a vegetable that is commonly found in Mediterranean cuisine. The plant has long, thin green stalks with small leaves that resemble a beard, hence the name. Monk's Beard has a unique flavour that is slightly bitter and salty with a nutty undertone. It has a tender and succulent texture that adds a nice crunch to salads and other dishes. With a short season, Monk’s Beard is only available for a month or so.
One indicator that spring is just around the corner will be the arrival of Jersey Royal Potatoes, which may start to trickle into the market during the month however early arrivals will be extremely expensive. We would recommend including them on menus from May onwards at the peak of the season however for those chefs keen to include them as early as possible then these will be available to pre-order.
Week 2-3 should also herald the arrival in the market of new season Yellow Courgettes from both the Netherlands and Israel, but be advised that they won’t be cheap - even by their own normally costly standards.
Alert - Cauliflower has seen a radical increase in price this month. UK and Spanish crops have been devastated by the snow and cold weather we experienced in December. This has resulted in a much higher demand for French crops which are already reduced as French farmers decided to plant less acreage this year following poor returns last year. Farmers are anticipating reduced availability and size of products available and increased pricing until May.
Alert - Onions have seen a dramatic rise in price. This is down to a poor yield of both UK and European crops with larger onions being particularly scarce. These prices are not expected to ease until July at the earliest when new crops will start.
Alert - Carrots have increased in price this month. We would usually switch from homegrown carrots to imported towards the end of the month and even as late as early April however it’s looking like this will be necessary up to 6 weeks early this year due to the extremely cold weather experienced in December and January.
Alert - Potato prices and availability have been fairly stable for the last four months however we are now starting to see the impacts of the droughts experienced in the 2022 growing seasons. The droughts the UK experienced last summer caused the plants to become extremely stressed during their final months of growing which caused a reduction in both size and number of tubers harvested. Furthermore, quality has not held as well as we would have hoped under storage conditions which along with high demand from the continent has seen overall availability reduce.
Salad - Alert!
You may have seen the news reports in February reporting of shortages of salad products from the South of Europe and North of Africa. This has been the case for much of February with availability being low and prices being extremely high. We are starting to see a little more availability however problems and high prices are expected to remain throughout the rest of March at least.
These problems started with the heat wave and drought in the summer of 2022 which moved into a short, mild Autumn followed by a freezing Winter which saw Ibiza covered in Snow. This sharp drop in temperature has led to major reductions in yield and size, quality issue and disease in the plants. Over the last week of February, we have seen temperatures in Spain increase but it will take anywhere from 10-14 days of consistently improved temperatures before we start to see improvements in the crops.
The cost of production, labour and transport have all increased which has therefore increased the cost of the product.
Courgettes, Aubergines & Broccoli are all coming from Spain in March and have been the least affected product lines however the quality is still lower that we would expect and prices are higher than anticipated.
Alert - Cucumbers are incredibly limited in supply from Spain. We are starting to see some local UK and Dutch product arriving however this is less than would usually be available at this time of year as farmers delayed planting due to the higher cost of heating.
Alert - Pepper availability remains low and colouration remains far from perfect.
Alert - Tomatoes have been severely affected by temperature but also by disease which has reduced the overall availability but also shelf life as it’s hard to detect some of the problems on harvest and these can develop in transit or after arrival. The Tomato shortage is being further compounded by supply issues from Morocco. Tomatoes would normally be arriving from Spain and Morocco however the Moroccan government have places export restrictions on Tomatoes in the run up to Ramadan.
Alert - Lettuces (Iceberg, Gem, Cos, Lollo, Oak & Frisee) have suffered from the cold and humidity which has caused tip burn and damage to outside leaves. Growers are trimming back the outside leaves whilst cutting to avoid issues but this has lead to lower weights.
Baby Leaf Salads including Mixed Leaf, Rocket and Baby Spinach imported majoritively from Italy, suffered in availability during February however supply levels have returned to normal for the time being
Sicilian Blood Oranges should be at their bloodiest and most flavoursome by mid month - but, as with the aforementioned Seville oranges, they like it cold and so temperature will be a determining factor.
There’s an even chance that Mineolas, or possibly Clem Nour, will start to supplant Spanish Clementines and Satsumas as our standard variety of easy-peel citruses towards the end of the month as their season begins to wind down. But don’t be too despondent, because although the Clem Nour can be a bit scruffy looking, both alternatives are really rather good and will provide worthy replacements.
English Bramley Apples are particularly good this time of year. That’s because it’s been several months since they were harvested, during which time their flavour has been allowed to fully develop – just like fine wine, ale or whisky. Sharply sweet and wonderfully aromatic, their use can extend far beyond mere desserts. They can, for example, add a dash of fruitiness to savories – particularly spicy or curried dishes like mulligatawny soup, and their juice gives a touch of edginess to sauces or salad dressings.
Southern Hemisphere Grapes (specifically South African and South American) of all hues should be consistently excellent throughout the month.
Mauritian Lychees will arrive into the Market this month and will be in plentiful supply.
There’s a good chance that USA and Canadian Fresh Cranberries will finish at some point during the latter part of the month or shortly thereafter, at which time you’ll have to rely on frozen or dried. Alternatively try our Boiron Cranberry & Cherry Puree or Stokes Cranberry Sauce.
Eggs will remain high in price with potentially reduced availability. This has been caused by a massive increase in cost of production, a seasonal outbreak of avian flu, coupled with a period of higher demand. In response to the avian flu outbreak, in November, DEFRA ordered that all free range birds be housed. Current regulations require that for an egg to be defined as Free Range, birds must not have been housed for more than 16 weeks, meaning that in February all eggs may have to be sold as Barn Eggs. DEFRA is currently considering relaxing the regulations in response to the more severe avian flu outbreaks we are experiencing each winter.
Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb will hopefully arrive by week 2 or 3 of the month. Forced Rhubarb is grown in the dark in specially designed ‘forcing sheds’ in which the environment is strictly controlled. Such conditions produce yields that are sweeter, more tender, more brightly and evenly coloured, straighter, longer and more slender than outdoor grown varieties. Many of these factors make forced rhubarb particularly well suited for use in sweets, desserts, jams and preserves, because its extra sweetness, natural tenderness and attractive appearance means it requires less preparation, less added sugar and less cooking time to achieve superb results.
There should be an excellent and wide ranging selection of Wild Mushrooms throughout the month, which are likely to include Ceps (Porcini), Chanterelles (both Yellow and Grey), Giroles, Pied Bleu, Pied de Mouton and Trompette. Be advised as always, however, that they won’t necessarily all be available at the same time, so make sure you check with us regarding the availability of a particular variety before planning your menus.
The majority of our Salads (Cucumber, Peppers, Tomatoes, Iceberg, Cos, Celery & Gem) are coming in from Spain and there are currently no problems on the horizon.
Grelot Onions are similar in appearance to spring onions but with usually larger and flatter bulbs and a milder, sweeter flavour, and can likewise be used raw or cooked. The stalks are also edible and can be sliced and cooked like leek, briefly stir-fried or chopped and used raw like chive. They should arrive from Egypt by the middle of the month and are usually available in bunches consisting of around 4 good sized bulbs.
Both English and Italian Fennel should be excellent and in peak condition throughout the month.
Hampshire grown Watercress may be problematic if there are too many extended cold periods.
September Fruit Bowl
Surprisingly perhaps, January provides no shortage of options for those compiling fruit bowls, baskets and platters – as long as one is prepared to allow one’s carbon footprint to increase a few sizes by venturing further afield for inspiration.
Clementines (both leaf and non-leaf varieties) and Satsumas will be of decent quality for most of the month but may start to decline towards the end. Oranges are usually excellent, with Blood Oranges reaching their peak by mid-month - if there’s sufficient frost in the Sicilian growing regions.
Italian Kiwis and Spanish Custard Apples will also still be available - although in not such abundance perhaps as they were prior-to and during Christmas. Israeli Sharon Fruit should still be excellent.
For the widest choice of produce, however, one must look to the southern regions of the globe, in particular South Africa and South America. Cherries will begin the month well, but expect the quality to start tailing-off towards the end. Peaches and Nectarines should be good throughout the month. Cape Plums, which usually start arriving in late December, will have improved greatly by early January.
As always, we’ll have a full compliment of Berries available however with product coming from further afield during the winter, the price conscious will want to avoid. In January our Blackberries will be from Mexico, Blueberries from Peru, Raspberries from Morocco and Strawberries from Spain.
Lychees will be reasonably priced and of good quality - particularly early on.
South American Finger (aka “Apple”) Bananas are an ideal size for fruit basket presentations and, although pricey, will add greater substance and variety.
Pale-skinned, ivory-fleshed Ya Pears, which could hold claim to be the most attractive of all the pear varieties, will add a touch of real elegance to any display.