The real problem behind Southern Salad’s demise

Salad leaves

I talked last week on the blog about food security and how the fall in the pound, post Brexit, will affect our food supply. You may have thought that was scaremongering but this week one of the UK’s biggest suppliers of salad and veg to supermarkets and restaurants went bust with the loss of 260 jobs.

Southern Salads in Kent have gone into receivership citing the Brexit referendum as the reason – they said the fall in the pound since the vote had been too much for the company to bear.

The situation for all those affected in Kent is clearly bad. But what’s really happening, beneath the surface, is even worse.

Those with deep pockets (the big retailers) are putting the squeeze on those in the middle (even relatively big players like Southern Salads) because they want to maintain market share by keeping prices low and not facing up to the currency devaluation resulting from Brexit.

I can’t believe they’re not thinking ‘the longer we hold out the more of the opposition will go out of business.

The currency bought pre-Brexit has long gone so why haven’t prices gone up to reflect the near 20% devaluation? Because they’re all playing chicken and we don’t want to pay a realistic price for our food.

Southern Salads works with a large family farm in Kent but also imports salad and vegetables from Belgium, Holland, Poland and Spain – particularly in the winter.

This story is just one example of how tenuous our food industry is. It doesn’t take much for the sums not to stack up, and for it to become impossible to make money by trucking in cabbage and onions from the other side of Europe.

We can try and grow more here, put polytunnels up in our damp fields, but we are going to have to be more realistic about imported food.

I don’t know how much, in energy terms, it costs to dry an onion in the UK but I wouldn’t mind betting it’s a lot more than the cost of trucking them in from Spain. And isn’t it a bit backward to try and produce everything here? We live in a global world and the internet allows us to communicate with suppliers all over the world… we can talk directly to them, find out about the provenance of our food wherever that is. So why not make the most of that and pay properly for the privilege?

Yes, food security is an issue but it’s going to be much worse if we can’t get used to paying the real price. When the big boys have won their game of chicken, what’s going to happen then?