UK salad crisis: Government tells grocers look again at farmer relationships

By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) - As Britain entered a third week of shortages of salad items, the government told big supermarket groups to re-examine their relationships with farmers.

On Monday, Lidl GB followed market leader Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Aldi in imposing customer purchase limits on tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers after supplies across the supermarket sector were hit by disrupted harvests in southern Europe and North Africa due to unseasonable weather.

The crisis has been exacerbated by less winter production in greenhouses in Britain and the Netherlands because of high energy costs, with social media awash with pictures of empty fruit and vegetable shelves in supermarkets.

British food and farming minister Mark Spencer said he met with executives of Britain's major grocers on Monday to hear what they were doing to alleviate the supply issues.

"I have also asked them to look again at how they work with our farmers and how they buy fruit and vegetables, so they can further build our preparedness for these unexpected incidents," he said in a statement.

He said he welcomed their commitment to working with government and farmers on longer term solutions.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents supermarket groups, said the retailers told Spencer they were working to address the current challenges and confirmed that customers should start to see an improvement in the coming weeks.

"Retailers also acknowledged the importance of food security, but noted that this requires a wider strategy involving government, farmers, food manufacturers, retailers and hospitality," it said.

Last week, Therese Coffey, minister for the environment, food and rural affairs, said shortages could last up to another month.

She has been widely mocked for saying Britons who cannot get hold of salad vegetables might want to consider turnips instead.

(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Angus MacSwan)