Buying pineapples in November is a luxury that many of us take for granted.
But middle-class Brits may need to start settling for homegrown apples and pears, a study has warned, as our supply of exotic fruit and vegetables dries up due to climate change.
A study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine published in the journal Nature Food warned that the proportion of the UK’s fruit and vegetable supply that is grown domestically has fallen from 42 per cent in 1987 to 22 per cent in 2013.
Almost a third of fruit and vegetable imports come from “climate vulnerable” countries, places where growth and supply chains are likely to be severely disrupted by climate change, up from one in five in 1987.
Lead author Dr Pauline Scheelbeek said that people now expected exotic foods all year round, even if they were not in season.
“The whole idea of seasonality, that you make certain dishes in winter and not in summer or vice versa doesn’t really exist anymore,” she said.
Over-50s and higher-earners were more likely to buy exotic foreign fruits and vegetables, most likely because of their higher cost, Dr Scheelbeek said, adding that supermarket produce should be labelled with a sustainability score to give buyers more information about its origins.
The researchers pinpointed the South American countries of Colombia and Ecuador as well as India and Egypt as sources of British food supply which were particularly vulnerable to climate change. Berries and citrus fruits were particularly likely to come from the most vulnerable areas.
Farmers in Colombia, a major exporter of bananas to Europe, have been hit hard by drought in recent years, while in Egypt, which sends grapes, sweet potatoes and onions to the UK, concerns have been raised about water security.
In the future, supply chains could also be disrupted by rising fossil fuel prices and geopolitical events such as Brexit, where a no-deal scenario could push importers to look further afield for cheaper non-EU suppliers.
A curtailed supply could also have knock-on effects for public health.
“It very much depends then on how people will respond to that. Will they find other fruits and vegetables or will they be replaced by something else?
“We know for example, based on the supermarket data, that if for some reason the price of fruit and vegetables increases, that people substitute that also for fruit juices which have less nutritional value and higher sugar,” Dr Scheelbeek said.