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There’s a new Fat Controller in town

The government’s food tsar has blamed Britain’s “weird supermarket culture” for recent food shortages, calling it a “market failure”.

Experts have criticised ministers for “leaving food policy to Tesco”, and meeting large food chains rather than suppliers, who have been struggling with rising costs while locked into contracts with supermarkets.

Henry Dimbleby, the co-founder of the restaurant chain Leon, who advises ministers on a food strategy for England, said Europe was not facing such issues because they did not have the same cultural problems.

He said: “There’s just this weird supermarket culture. A weird competitive dynamic that’s emerged in the UK, and nowhere else in the world has it, and I don’t know why that is.”


He said he found the current situation “frustrating” as people were focusing on remarks about turnips, rather than structural issues with the food system. “I find it quite frustrating that everyone is suddenly worried about a gap of vegetables in February, when there are much bigger structural issues that need to resolve, and definitely the government on health has very explicitly gone backwards,” he said.

Dimbleby disagreed with the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, who denied that the recent shortages of eggs and vegetables was a “market failure”. He said: “This is a problem of market failure in the specifically British food system. It’s going to get worse. The UK food system is, I think, unique – I don’t know another system where the supermarkets have these fixed-price contracts with suppliers. So, basically, you have no effective market. It’s a very difficult one for the government to solve, but it does need to be resolved.”

Guaranteed prices are a market failure, are they?

Dimbleby said that in the UK lettuce prices in supermarkets were kept stable, whether there was a shortage or a glut, meaning farmers could not sell all their crop when they had too much, or get incentives to produce more during a shortage. He added: “If there’s bad weather across Europe, because there’s a scarcity supermarkets put their prices up – but not in the UK. And therefore at the margin, the suppliers will supply to France, Germany, Ukraine.”

And can you imagine the screaming if prices fell in a glut?

Anyway, given the experience of the 20th century, it is amusing to see someone so mad that they think more government involvement in food prices is the solution. Clearly we really do have a lithium shortage.

21 thoughts on “There’s a new Fat Controller in town”

  1. I see Brexit is to blame.

    However the claim of a lack of workers to pick the stuff is interesting. Perhaps all illegals could be conscripted and put to harvesting it under the lash?? That should certainly discourage the boats.

    Of course your suggestion could be adopted. Just allow the prices to be set by the market. I agree it’d be entertaining to hear the howls as prices fell during a glut. Maybe there’d be a cry that the government should take action to stop all that evil junk coming in from the EU. Obviously not done because they handled Brexit so badly.

  2. ’And therefore at the margin, the suppliers will supply to France, Germany, Ukraine.”’

    I take it we’ve strayed away from the idea that an army marches on its stomach then..?

  3. I have seen Spanish orange growers leave boxes of their produce outside supermarkets for people to take free of charge. Some years ago but may still happen.

    And didn’t Eire have a shortage of toms? Due to Brexit no doubt.

  4. British supermarkets are the best I’ve seen anywhere. USA, France, Spain, Netherlands. Clean, well-stocked, a huge variety of products.

    And I guess they aren’t perfect. We can’t get tomatoes and salad in early March? Oh my stars. Aren’t these the same foodie wankers who endlessly bang on about how we should all cook seasonally? I’m flexible on all of this, but March is for lamb shanks, casseroles, rhubarb crumble and pies. Something warm and filling.

  5. I’d be interested to know where that was, Addolff. Valencia Province? Can’t imagine the supermarkets would be pleased. It’d be stealing their trade on their own turf.
    We had the same problem with our oranges. Far too many for us to use but no one interested in buying them. I towed a trailer full up to a lay-by on the highway so a couple of local lassies could try flogging them to passers-by. They made themselves some pin money. Our olives rotted on the ground. Nobody interested in picking. The mebrillos (quince) I picked & exchanged with a restaurant for free meals
    I’ve seen water-melons (sandia) piled up on the edge of fields for anyone to take.
    It’s just a problem with farming. If there’s a glut the price will get rid of the stuff drops below the cost of picking, transport etc. That’s why the boxes outside supermarkets sounds improbable. If they’d suffered the cost of picking & transport they were saleable at below profit to recover some of it. Effectively what I was doing with the girls. Subsidising them making pocket money.

  6. That was my thought BiS, that the supermarket wouldn’t be happy, but I saw it a few times in Torrevieca (I think Mercadona was the supermarket). Maybe there was a glut and the growers dumped them. Not too long after, many of the groves between there and Catral where my brother lived were being dug up and replaced with pomegranates when they were touted as a new ‘super food’.

  7. In our Queensland experience: “Passionfruit: $ a bucket. Including the bucket.”

    Anyway our not very remote ancestors had a Spring crop called “Hungry gap kale”.

    Think on’t, as cliché-mongers like to say.

  8. BIS,

    It’s a general problem that it all comes together. Like, all my apples and plums arrive at about the same time. I could fill a freezer with cooking apples. I take some around to the neighbours, but even they don’t want loads of them. And my neighbours toiled on an allotment in retirement. Fun for some people, I guess, but they were giving us loads of brocolli or beans because they had too much. They could have spent their time indoors doing various polls and probably made as much money.

    And it’s where professional growers and supermarkets generally make it all work.

    I came to a conclusion some years ago that you should only really think of your main skill as your money maker. And to do it really well. Everything else, do for fun.

  9. Their farmers are a good deal more militant than ours. They dump their surpluses in front of the town hall, I believe.
    This Dimbleby cove should be told to go and jump in a wine lake.

  10. A few years ago there was a butter shortage in France. Not in the neighbouring countries, curiously. Turned out that the French supermarkets had fixed-price contracts for butter, but the wider market price rose, and suppliers diverted their stocks to better-paying customers.

    So no, British supermarkets aren’t unique in having long-term fixed-price contracts.

  11. As a supplier into UK, French, Benelux and German retail (OK FMCG, but hey) I’d say the UK ones are the least problematic to deal with…. even the forrin’ owned discounters.

    Cvnts like Dimbleby should STFU unless they have direct experience…. which they don’t.

  12. I think we could have lived off of that land. (I’m sure somebody originally did. Why the variety of trees). Be more serious with the chickens & goats, maybe extend to rabbits & pigs for meat. But it’d be full time employment. And one would rarely produce a cash crop. Because every time one had a surplus one would be trying to sell it into a surplus. Which means one would have to be doing a lot of things for oneself, which otherwise would be more economically bought in as goods or services. Necessary to be virtually 100% self sufficient. Which is why I’d say it’d be full time. And I do mean 365 days a year with every bit of daylight you’re given. Which is what it must have been like. Trading what working hours one could spare for the cash to buy what couldn’t be produced. Need a strapping wife* & a gaggle of kids, really. Not my idea of paradise. I’m more into what looks good in bikinis & contraception.

    *Up in Flanders, they say what a Flemish farmer looks for in a wife is a woman who can pull the plow when the horse is sick. Carrying the horse. You can pick up one at Hazebrouck market on a Tuesday, fairly easily. Buy her a beer or ten.

  13. ‘… said Europe was not facing such issues because they did not have the same cultural problems.:

    About three years in France there was a butter shortage because of increased demand from outside Europe, and supermarkets refused to pay higher prices to producers because of contracts, and wouldn’t put prices up in supermarkets. This led to boulangeries buying butter from supermarkets because it was cheaper than buy8ng from producers. Hence… empty shelves.

    The sign in my local Lidl says some items are in short supply because of poor weather conditions in Morocco and Spain, although there seems to be plenty of stuff.

  14. Why is a restaurateur advising anybody on the food industry. His knowledge is so specialised as to be useless apart from supplying quotes for the Groaniad. Perhaps he has family connections

  15. And indeed, he turns out to be the son of David Dumblebore. Nothing in his CV suggests any expertise in Agriculture or Economics or the Agricultural Industry

  16. Apparently he’s an eejit from Eton, and it’s who he knows not what he knows.

    Does this sound a bit like the government we spy from Handycock’s WhatsApps?

    They really aren’t interested in people who know stuff as they might turn out to be awkward bastards, like telling pols to FOAD.

  17. @Boganboy – “Perhaps all illegals could be conscripted and put to harvesting it under the lash?”

    Not possible as illegal immigrants are not allowed to work.

    On the general point about “market failure”, it’s not long since energy companies were criticised for being exposed to supply price rises by not having fixed price contracts (or equivalent). As always, when prices rise, those without fixed price contracts are accused of failing their customers, while when prices fall, those with fixed price contracts are accused of failure. You can’t have it both ways.

  18. My prediction for a week from now:
    The UK supermarkets have tomatoes and cucumbers back in stock and the rationing ends. But the cucumbers are a wonky shape, like a cricket ball in a sock sort of shape, and the tomatoes are not fully red ripe. And the new complaint is about food quality ‘cos there’s just no pleasing the intellectual whinging class.

  19. Wut Bongo says… Offerings on tomatoes and cucumbers are …not fancy restaurant grade..

    Nothing that a few days properly stored/exposed won’t fix though. But imagine peeps nowadays knowing how to post-harvest ripen their stuff.. Or switch to the Good Eatin’ of stuff that’s affordable and available for the season.

    Of course, that means you have to be able to actually…cook..

  20. Devil’s Kitchen

    What annoys me — and I’ll admit that I have only indulged twice — is that Leon’s food is absolutely disgusting. Really, really unpleasant.


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