15 November 2022

Major supermarket warns of wild weather-induced food shortages but not everyone is worried

| Lottie Twyford
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Woolworths has warned shoppers that wet weather is exacerbating supply issues and hammering the supply of cherries and potatoes. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Thanks to the recent rain and floods that have battered the country, everything from cherries to potatoes could be in short supply this Christmas, and shoppers are being told to expect that some of their favourite items might be harder to find than usual.

But smaller supermarkets, markets and producers say it’s probably too early to make a call.

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Last week, Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci warned shoppers they may see a delayed start to the fresh fruit and vegetable season for items like cherries and stone fruits.

That, he said, was due to the havoc being wreaked by La Niña.

“The poor weather, especially in Tasmania, has also impacted the supply of frozen vegetables (such as corn and potatoes) and potato crisps,” he said.

Mr Banducci further explained the poor weather had compounded ongoing supply chain challenges, like shortages in raw materials, pallets and even truck drivers, making this festive season “anything but straightforward”.

These expected shortages haven’t yet reared their ugly head for smaller businesses.

Mic from Tom's Superfruits

Mic Frugneit from Tom’s Superfruits isn’t worried (yet) about Christmas food shortages – he says it’s simply too early to tell. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

For Mic Frugneit of Tom’s Superfruits at the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets, it’s simply too soon to tell what supply will be like around Christmas.

“Who knows? It all depends on how the weather is going to go in the next few weeks,” he said.

“Cherries and stone fruit will be the items we’re keeping an eye on because they can be so impacted by the weather … and so I wouldn’t say there will be a shortage, but we’re expecting a little less than usual.”

If the wet weather holds off, that prediction may not even come true.

Mr Frugneit is also – unsurprisingly – not recommending that shoppers get in early to purchase cherries and stonefruit for a Christmas feast as they obviously won’t last.

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Chris Hall of Hall Family Orchards has an even more optimistic outlook.

“There are lots of different districts so there are always different experiences … but so far, so good,” he said.

“Everyone is worried about the weather and we have had a lot of rain … but it hasn’t done any damage.”

Mr Hall said this year’s cherry crop is running a couple of weeks behind schedule, which could be why the larger chains are stressed about Christmas supply.

“For our district, this is sort of ideal. We generally start around Melbourne Cup and go until Christmas, which means we will probably go after December 25 this year,” he explained.

“But I’m hedging a bet (just personally) that things will pick up once we get some good weather and there will be plenty of fruit for Christmas.”

Ainslie IGA

Ainslie IGA staff are hoping for a “normal” Christmas after two disrupted years. Photo: Daniella Jukic.

It’s not only supply issues weighing on grocers’ minds ahead of the festive season.

Ainslie IGA store manager Dimitri Mihailakis isn’t overly worried about shortages as that hasn’t yet filtered down to him.

But Mr Mihailakis said they are interested in what demand will be like this year after two years of disruptions.

“What we don’t know is whether people will use this year to try and get away for a break or whether they will be at home,” he explained.

“But we will stock the shop as normal and staff it as usual and take it as it comes.”

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Pleased my vegetable garden is doing well, and I am mostly independent of the supply problems for vegetables. Mind you, the cherries on my cherry tree are likely to rot AGAIN, because of the rain. Will have plums and peaches though. My blueberries are looking the best in years. Unlike the cherry, they like this weather. The kiwi fruit had a heavy crop too Other fruit and berries too.

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