Woolworths supply update warns of vegetable, herb shortages

Shoppers have been warned of dire vegetable supply issues, with Woolworths revealing it doesn’t expect improvements for several weeks.

Woolworths has warned of saying weeks ahead as extreme shortages across fresh produce continue to cause shopping chaos.

The retailer gave a grim insight into the month ahead in its latest Fresh Market supply update, revealing customers may need to get used to seeing shelves looking particularly bare.

Shoppers have been informed that fresh herb supply had been so significantly affected that it was unlikely to be available in usual quantities until August.

“You might notice gaps in our supply of fresh herbs due to poor weather conditions. We’re expecting availability to get better from August,” the update read.

Consumers weren’t only facing a herb-free July though, with a host of other fresh items unavailable until late next month.

Challenging growing conditions had caused disruption to the zucchini supply, meaning the vegetable was unlikely to appear back on shelves until the end of July.

“Availability is expected to improve in four weeks as the weather begins to warm up in growing regions,” the zucchini update read.

Green beans, baby spinach and salad bowls were other items the retailer warned would be difficult to properly replenish until later next month.

Previous weather impacts were the primary cause of the bean shortage, while heavy rain had hindered regions responsible for baby spinach and salad bowl ingredient growth.

“Heavy rain across the growing regions means you may not be able to shop our entire range of baby spinach and salad bowls. We expect supply to improve over the next four weeks,” the update said.

Woolworths’ full range of tomatoes had been affected and availability was not expected to improve until the middle of July.

It was a similar case for Asian leafy vegetables due to poor weather conditions, and for grapes because of the summer growing season coming to an end.

Well-documented lettuce supply issues were due for improvement in July as the supermarket continued working with growers to recover from the impact of heavy rain in growing regions.

Heavy rain had also disrupted supply of broccoli and broccolini, which was expected to start improving from July.

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries were still being affected by “challenges”, the retailer said, with availability expected to increase in early July as the growing conditions improve.

Toll of prolonged supply issues

Prolonged supply issues have pushed prices to extremes that small produce business owners have never experienced before.

Dominic Marino, owner of Melbourne produce business Marino Bros, told Nine the strain being felt by his company was even worse than what it endured during the pandemic.

“The sad thing now is we are experiencing more pain in the past six months than the past two years during Covid-19,” he said.

“Being in this game for 30 years, I have never experienced the pain of trying to buy vegetables like this.”

Fellow Melbourne produce business The Flying Zucchini shared a similar experience, with produce boxes costing 25 per cent more now than this time last year.

A box of broccoli that would have cost $16, now costs the business $60.

“My business partner and I spend twice as long planning our boxes each week, just to have it fall apart at 4am when we reach the markets and realize that prices have hiked again in the six hours that we were asleep,” business partner Caity Meyer told the publication.

“This isn’t a sustainable position for a small business to sit in. We predict that prices will level out again soon, but we’ll be taking a good hard look at our operations if they don’t.”

No reprieve for canned food

The disaster has also extended to the supply of canned food, with SPC boss Robert Giles pleading with the Government for financial support.

Supply costs – separate to energy prices, which the company has locked in until next year – had placed immense pressure on the company, Mr Giles told the Australian Financial Review.

Box supplier Visy had increased prices by 14 per cent which came after Mr Giles’ warning in March that staples including SPC Ardmona canned tomatoes, baked beans, spaghetti and Goulburn Valley fruit would rise in price by 10 to 20 per cent.

“We just finished a significant price increase for our tomato season next year based on fertiliser, diesel and labour,” he told the publication.

“The flow-on effects are being felt everywhere. We’ll have to pass on packaging increases, next season we will have to pass on fruit increases and a year later we will probably have to pass on energy price increases.”

Mr Giles called on the Government to provide urgent assistance to avoid reaching a “breaking point” where consumers could no longer afford basic food items.

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