A warm and wet winter doesn't bode well for spring supplies, says Lynx Purchasing in its Market Forecast, and caterers should ready themselves for fluctuating supply. The Caterer highlights where to look for the best value when planning a menu
The UK's unpredictable weather patterns mean caterers are likely to face uncertain supplies and higher prices for a range of produce this spring, warns buying specialist Lynx Purchasing.
The long, mild spell that lasted throughNovember and into December, followed by periods of torrential rain in many parts of Britain in December and January, has left both growers and produce suppliers waiting to count the cost.
"The newspaper stories during the very mild start to winter were all about wild flowers blooming," says Rachel Dobson, managing director of Lynx Purchasing. "However, when the natural cycle goes out of sync, it affects farmers and growers.
Crops planted in the autumn to be harvested in spring had an early growth spurt, meaning they either have to be harvested earlier or will struggle to sustain quality right the way through until picking.
"As we all know, the mild weather was followed by severe flooding in many areas, which inevitably had a further impact. Our fresh produce suppliers are advising that seasonal vegetable staples, such as carrots, parsnips, cauliflower and cabbage, have been harvested earlier, which will require a switch to more expensive imports as home-grown supplies run low later in the spring. We're advising our customers who are planning menus that salads, soft fruits, root crops and green vegetables
are all likely to see some challenges in terms of price and availability."
The warning comes in the newly-published spring 2016 edition of the Lynx Purchasing Market Forecast. Combining official inflation data with exclusive insight from across the range of food and drink suppliers Lynx Purchasing works with, the Market Forecast looks at supply trends in the UK and globally in order to help caterers plan profitable menus.
Smaller sea bass The popularity of sea bass on menus is starting to have an impact on both the size and availability of the species. Dobson says: "Over the past few years sea bass has moved from being a special to a regular dish on many menus in the branded pub and casual-dining sector, and that inevitably has had an impact.
"Most sea bass on menus is farmed, and our suppliers tell us that they are now getting smaller fish from the main producers in Turkey and Greece. That can affect margins because it may take two fillets instead of one to make a main course, and in the longer term those smaller fish never have the chance to grow to maturity.
"We're advising our independent customers to look at alternatives this spring and summer. Pollack and cod are forecast to be in good supply, and flat fish at their best quality with good availability and pricing will include brill, dabs, Dover sole, megrim and witch."
Steak cuts As with fish, different steak cuts go through peaks of popularity, with fillet currently seeing a resurgence. "Until recently, fillet seemed to have priced itself off many menus," says Dobson, "but more operators are bringing it back as the premium dish. That has an inevitable impact on both price and availability, and so the cycle starts again.
"Ribeye and rump steaks are also very popular, while sirloins seem to be out of favour, making this cut, by comparison, a better value option. Steak is a menu ‘essential' for many operators, but using specials boards to keep the offer flexible, and working with meat suppliers to buy according to availability and price, will help to manage costs. The same will
apply to beef joints for Sunday roasts and carveries, with the best value available to caterers able to vary the offer."
Lamb will see the usual seasonal price increases, due both to its popularity on menus and demand from supermarket retailers to secure stocks for Easter promotions. Pork also faces challenges, with UK pig farmers having cut back production due to low market prices, and a weaker pound pushing up the cost of imports from Europe. As a result, the price of both bacon and pork legs are likely to be higher.
Worldwide worries Market Forecast also highlights concerns about produce from beyond the UK.
Avocados Avocados are increasingly popular, and with global demand at an all-time high, availability is tight due to significantly lower harvests, and prices are now rising sharply. It takes several years for new plants to produce fruit, so growers will take a while to catch up with demand.
Salad Very warm weather in Spain at the beginning of the year has led to quality issues with tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.
Oils Rapeseed and soya oils are expected to see price increases, with both in higher demand globally as alternatives to palm oil, which is in short supply.
The latest Market Forecast also sounds a warning note to caterers hoping to see a benefit from the fall in global oil prices. Dobson says: "Although suppliers have seen their fuel costs fall, other factors are working against them. There is still a shortage of experienced drivers, pushing up wage costs. Increased security at the channel ports means that lorries are taking significantly longer to bring in imports, while the weaker pound means import prices are higher in the first place.
"From April, the National Living Wage will also have a significant impact on the costs of UK growers. Overall, we expect the supply chain element of the cost of food and drink to remain stable, despite the falling oil price.
"As ever, though, there will be plenty of very good value produce available this spring. With the larger managed pub and casual-dining chains typically having less menu flexibility, independent operators who can work closely with their suppliers will have an advantage."
Lynx is an effective and experienced team of purchasing experts who help hospitality and catering businesses buy better, manage their costs and operate more profitably.
Lynx already works with a wide range of catering businesses, including hotels, restaurants, pubs, care homes and the education sector.
To download the free Lynx Purchasing GP Calculator App, endorsed by the Craft Guild of Chefs, search for GP Calculator in the App store or on GooglePlay. You can keep up to date with Lynx Purchasing through Twitter by following @lynxpurchasing.
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