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Food price rises on the horizon, start saving for Christmas sprouts

PUBLISHED: 23:55 30 August 2018

Bread shortage queues at Westbrooks in Hamilton Road, Felixstowe in 
December  1974. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

Bread shortage queues at Westbrooks in Hamilton Road, Felixstowe in December 1974. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

Can we live without olive oil and sprouts at Christmas? Of course we can.

Norfolk carrot grower Simon Pearce has warned of a carrot shortage this year.  Picture: IAN BURTNorfolk carrot grower Simon Pearce has warned of a carrot shortage this year. Picture: IAN BURT

For those too young to remember wartime food rationing, recent dark mutterings about post- EU exit shortages may give us all and idea of what its like to live with food shortages... or maybe not.

We have already been warned that the dire, wet spring and uncommonly hot summer will cause price rises in a number of home-grown foodstuffs. The latest fear is that there will be dire consequences for Christmas lunch because of a seasonal sprout shortage, (and broccoli, cabbage and potato crops are also likely to be affected). Inevitably, prices will rise, though I imagine the Brussels sprout will still be available. Good news for sprout-haters, not so good for others.

We’re told we may also have to face a hiccup in imported food supplies if the UK leaves the European Union without a customs deal. This, combined with weather-related shortages could create a perfect storm of consumer panic-buying. Whether or not it is part of what has been dubbed “project fear” is difficult to judge but the danger is, even if shortages don’t happen, stockpiling will make it a self-fulfilling prophesy. Even then, it hardly compares to the desperate situation for people in, for example, Venezuela.

The most likely outcome will be price increases and this could be exacerbated by hoarding... but are we brave enough not to rush out and buy more of what we might need, just in case? I’m guessing we’re not because no one wants to run the risk of running out of staple foods. An article in one national tabloid lists olive oil, pepper, pasta and rice as items we get from EU countries that would need to be stored up should a no deal Brexit go ahead. It then adds spices, chilli, anchovies or tomatoes (in tins or pastes), plus beans - Kidney, butter, black - chickpeas and tinned fish. Discouraging for those who like a Mediterranean diet.

Will there be sprouts? Picture: DAVID LAMMINGWill there be sprouts? Picture: DAVID LAMMING

Post-war precedents are few although there have been a few occasions when we faced shortages, mainly in the Seventies. Some of you may recall the dearth of sugar in the summer of 1974. The UK faced a shortage of sugar because of a reduction in sugar cane imports from the Caribbean. There was a drop of more than a third in sugar imports and this caused some stores to begin rationing. What happened, it appears, is that the Caribbean countries began selling more of their sugar cane to the more lucrative market of the United States.

The shortage did not worry auntie Maudie, who, when we stayed over for a couple of 
nights, was revealed to have an entire cupboard stuffed with granulated and caster sugar. While hoarding cannot be condoned, she had been badly spooked by the news stories. 
I do not recall any instances of sugar riots or people being totally without sugar. I would imagine dieticians welcomed any reduction in national sugar intake.

Not many people recall the coffee shortage of 1976 but I do − mainly because I stayed in a London flat where the owner had acquired two dozen jars of Nescafé Gold Blend. In 1976 the UK was only just seeing the beginnings of a trend towards coffee shops and fresh-filtered coffee at home. Gold Blend was very much at the luxury end of the domestic coffee market.

It seems (with the help of a Google search) that this was more of a worry in countries such as America, with its thriving coffee-culture. Gloomy reports said the world shortage, caused by crop failures (frost in Brazil), had pushed prices to around $2 per pound and that there could be further rises.

Bread strike queue at Don Millersin Norwich in November 1978. Picture:  ARCHANT LIBRARYBread strike queue at Don Millersin Norwich in November 1978. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

More of us will remember the bread queues of 1977, caused by a bakery workers’ strike. One paper described the panic-buying as “breadlam”. A lack of a staple food such as bread strikes at the heart of a nation and when bread did come into the shops, it was sold out in minutes. Meanwhile, packets of bread mix were also stripped from the shelves by anxious shoppers, prepared to bake their own in the absence of a white, sliced loaf..

The independent bakeries were not on strike but some of them sold bread only to regular customers.

It is easy to nod sagely in 2018. Some will be thinking they could easily do without sugar and as for a bread shortage, surely an inconvenience rather than a cause for despair. But the temptation to hoard is almost irresistible. If shelves are empty of a certain food, you feel you must buy it when you see it... in fact, best buy two, or three... or maybe a dozen.

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