PEOPLE across Scotland are noticing gaps in the fruit and vegetable displays at supermarkets and a decline in quality with some items past their best by the time they arrive.

Pre-Brexit, fruit and veg were in the shops within five days of being harvested in Spain, France or Italy. Now the process takes up to two weeks, explained greengrocer James Welby of Tattie Shaw’s on Edinburgh’s Leith Walk.

He said: “Excuse my French – but it is a shitshow. It is probably a combination of Brexit and Covid but the produce is taking much longer to get here than it used to and it often isn’t class one when it arrives. Everything has a cost – even delay. The produce is more expensive – on average around 10% more I would say, but it varies.

“I think we are going to have to get used to this decline in quality and variety as it is not getting fixed any time soon.

“It is just not realistic to say we should replace it with British produce. The whole way Britain’s food chain is set up is to get the stuff from Europe. It is cheaper to grow it there – they get two harvests a year, the weather is more reliable, they can get the labour. There is not much farming of that kind left in Scotland or the UK.”

He added: “We just don’t grow much salad greens, tomatoes, broccoli, courgettes, peppers and so on here. We can only produce them for a couple of months a year, they are labour intensive and if we get a lot of rain nobody can get in and get anything picked.

“In the 80s and 90s a lot of the remaining British farms went over to crops like rapeseed. They are high yield and easier to grow and harvest.”

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Everyone we spoke to in the fresh produce area of Morrisons in Edinburgh at 10 am one morning this week said they were aware of the difference.

Shopper Deirdre Bracks (below) said: “I am not seeing the range of produce that I expect. I particularly notice it in the salad veg. We eat a lot of salads and I am used to buying all the different types of leaves and other things – but they are just not available at the moment. I found one reasonable tomato. I am having to adapt and rethink what I can make. I do things like grate carrots onto an iceberg lettuce to make it a bit more exciting.”

The National:

Shopper Deirdre Bracks noticed fruits and vegetables were lacking in her Edinburgh Morrisons

Jane Dobson added: “I particularly noticed the tomatoes today – there are hardly any and they are all the same kind. There isn’t the usual range.”

Debbie Pearson noted the absence of mineral water: “I generally buy six packs of fizzy mineral water but the shelves are all empty.” Tesco in Leith Walk was also out of mineral water.

The picture is replicated elsewhere, at other supermarkets and cities across Scotland. Alistair McBay from the Isle of Barra tweeted a photo of empty shelves in his local Coop to International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, asking: “So you can arrange to export apples to India but can you explain why you can’t get them picked and delivered to supermarkets in the UK? This is a supermarket in Scotland today. How do you account for this?”

Twitter user Seonaidh tweeted a picture of supermarket shelves where empty boxes were covered with images of fresh produce: “#BrexitShambles takes an Orwellian twist. Our fruit and veg sections have become photo galleries. I expect @BBCScotlandNews will be grilling our Tories over why fruit is rotting in the fields while our shops are empty?”

Nick Currie from Edinburgh said: “I was in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose this week and I couldn’t believe it – there were huge gaps and the quality was not great. There were cucumbers that were over the edge of what I am prepared to eat.

“It reminded me of an old joke about the Soviet Union – a man walks into a shop and asks for some sausages. The shopkeeper replies ‘Sorry, we are not the shop that doesn’t have any meat. That’s next door. We are the shop that doesn’t have any fish’. I never expected to see parallels between the UK and the former Soviet Union, but that’s where we are thanks to Brexit.”

One explanation that has been presented for the delays is the absence of lorry drivers. Before the pandemic, around 10% of Britain’s 600,000 HGV lorry drivers were from the EU and they have mostly left the country. In an open letter to Boris Johnson, the Road Hauliers Association estimated that there is a shortage of 60,000 lorry drivers. In response, the UK Government relaxed rules so that drivers can drive an extra hour a day – up to 10 hours. That is for an initial four-week period.

A LORRY driver, known as “Highland Extreme Cybernat” online, tweeted last week: “Just been told, as from Monday, I’ve to drive my 50ft long vehicle for five and a half hours before my break, five days a week. So it begins. I’ll not tell you which A road I drive, but it’s the one considered the most dangerous in my profession. Go team Tory.”

According to the most recent statistics, from 2019, reported in the publication Investment Monitor, the UK relies heavily on European fresh fruit and veg, with one-third coming from Spain. It is also a net importer of fruit and veg – in 2019 less than a fifth of the fruit consumed in the UK was grown here.

A Coop staff member who wished to remain anonymous said: “There’s a shortage of drivers. That’s why the shop’s half empty. We can’t get anything from the depot. It’s the same all over town and Perth is the same too.”

Tesco and Morrisons were approached to give their take on the story but have not provided comment.