ABU DHABI // Supermarkets faced shortages of some fresh fruit and vegetables yesterday as a volcano cloud grounded air freight over most of Europe for a sixth day. Jannie Holtzhausen, the chief executive of the Spinneys supermarket chain in the UAE, said the company flies in "substantial" quantities of fresh food from Europe and America.
Supplies of dairy products, fruit, vegetables, chilled meats and fish are among the categories worst hit in supermarkets as consignments remain stranded in Europe. "There will be shortages of some products," he said. Though the bulk of fresh produce comes from the region, many supermarkets fly in vegetables such as tomatoes from Holland, and carrots and fruit from the US. Goods with longer shelf lives have not been affected as most of those arrive via sea lanes.
Spinneys is trying to replenish its stock by flying in more from South Africa and Australia, Mr Holtzhausen said. While the number of choices will diminish, "there will still be products on the shelves. It will have less of an effect on the supermarket's sales than on the customer's lifestyle habits". Mr Holtzhausen said about five per cent of Spinneys' fresh goods are effected. David Berrick, the retail general manager at Abela Supermarkets, said the supermarket has one consignment worth £14,000 (Dh78,000) stuck at London Heathrow and a 12,000 (Dh59,000) consignment waiting in Paris, much of which will have spoilt by the time it arrives.
Supplies of a fifth of his products had been hurt. The chain normally flies in three tonnes of fresh produce from Europe every week, and one tonne from the US via London. His delivery of perishables from America arrives on Wednesdays; Mr Berrick said he does not expect this week's consignment to arrive but added that he had not yet switched any supply lines. "It's a short-term thing and there's not a lot of point if the air space is going to open up again," he said.
He said the full impact is yet to be felt: "The first week is OK; it's the second and third weeks that are the worry. We are really hoping that it will be normalised this week." Mr Holtzhausen said the supermarket would not pass on increased freight costs to customers and expected that freight flights would not resume for at least a week after passenger flights. "The priority will be given to passengers rather than cargo," he said.
Nandu Kumar, a spokesman for Lulu Supermarkets, said his chain was also running low on certain fresh goods, but stressed it was on a minority of products. "Naturally, there are disruptions," he said. "It's mostly to the fresh products that have a short shelf life. Our suppliers are talking to the shipping companies and we hope to have everything back to normal in four to five days." No one from Abu Dhabi Airports Company was available to comment on how long a cargo backlog might last.