Janice Kew and Tshepiso Mokhema
South Africans are being forced to forgo their greens after unseasonal rains drowned seedlings in the main salad-farming areas.
Woolworths and Pick n Pay are among retailers that have struggled to keep stock of lettuce after the rains in February and last month ruined crops.
Full supply would be restored within the next two weeks, a Woolworths spokesman, who could not be identified in line with the company’s policy, said on Monday.
Woolworths, which has more than 330 stores countrywide, has posted signs on shop shelves to notify customers about the shortage.
Pick n Pay’s divisional manager for fresh produce, Anthony Brown, said “extremely hot conditions and then heavy rains” had affected crops and the company had experienced shortages.
“We expect the situation to normalise within the next three to four weeks.”
In less than two weeks last month Johannesburg got more than double the usual average monthly rainfall, according to the SA Weather Service. Showers in the Cape and Gauteng caused delays in harvests.
Ninety-nine percent of lettuce produced is for local consumption, according to the agriculture ministry.
Restaurants and independent vegetable sellers have also been affected. Those that have been able to source lettuce have faced higher asking prices.
Fruit & Veg City, a closely held Cape Town-based grocer, had more than doubled lettuce prices in the last month, company spokesman Rupert Stoop said.
There was also limited supply of other vegetables, Dino da Silva, the co-owner of Tyrone Fruiterers in Johannesburg, said on Monday.
“The rains around Gauteng last month have caused shortages for the last four weeks of several leafy greens such as cabbage, spinach, lettuce and herbs,” he said. “It got to a point where we were being dictated to on price – it’s a case of demand and limited supply.”
While some of the higher costs had been passed on to customers, the retailer had reduced margins on these products, Da Silva said.
Many of the farmers had to replow and plant from seed, he said. Even so, “it should all be back to normal in the next two weeks”, he said. – Bloomberg