Air freight restrictions could hit produce imports

Air freight restrictions could hit produce imports

The human impact of airspace closure across northern Europe due to the volcanic ash cloud extends beyond stranded holidaymakers, to include the imports of fresh fruit and vegetables, according to the Freight Transport Association (FTA).

Flight restrictions implemented in the UK and northern Europe after last week's eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland have meant no food imports have arrived into Europe via aircraft.

Christopher Snelling, FTA’s head of global supply chain policy, said that, with imports of some fruit and vegetables grounded, certain fresh produce, such as exotic fruits and fresh flowers, are starting to become noticeable by their absence from UK supermarket shelves.

“Even if British airspace opened up immediately, it would take a fortnight to clear the backlog of air freight destined for the UK, so we already face an unprecedented logistical challenge. Of course, for fresh produce, this could simply be too long a wait and some will simply have to be destroyed,” Snelling said.

He added that producers in Africa are being particularly badly hit.

“In some areas of the continent 90% of fruit, flowers and vegetable exports to Europe are delivered by air. With over one million African farmers reliant on the UK consumption of their fruit and vegetables, UK holidaymakers are not the only ones watching the skies,” Snelling said.

However, a number of UK retailers today insisted that there were currently no issues with stock levels.

Asda said that less than 2% of its food produce arrives by air, although it admitted that if restrictions continue, it may results in issues with the supply of exotic fruit.

Likewise, Tesco said that “well under” 1% of its food produce arrives by air and that it also had experienced no “disruptions or empty shelves”, with a “minimal amount” of produce flown in. But added that exotic items such as orchids may become in short supply if restrictions continue.

Sainsbury’s also said that disruption to its stock levels has been “minimal” due to its “strong British sourcing policy”.

A spokesperson for Morrisons, however, said products such as sugarsnap peas, runner beans and mangetout "will be in short supply" and that it will be offering frozen and tinned varieties as an alternative.