Restaurants and shops have been accused of sparking lettuce rationing by bulk-buying the salad favourite, amid a European vegetable shortage sparked by bad weather in Spain.
Big UK supermarkets have limited the number of lettuces each customer can buy in stores, with iceberg, sweet gem and romaine varieties removed from online sales completely by some.
An extreme mix of drought followed by flooding and freezing conditions has severely affected growers in southern Spain, while poor conditions have also hit farmers in Italy, Greece and Turkey.
Dieter Lloyd, spokesman for the British Leafy Salads Growers Association, said: “I think people are getting very surprised by the notion of rationing. But generally people don’t buy three heads of iceberg, or six packs of baby gem.
“The reason they are doing it [rationing] is because grocers, wholesalers, restaurants, and hospitality outlets were going to the retailers and buying trays of produce. The retailers are trying to curb that because they want the produce to be available for customers, rather than the hospitality industry or the wholesale market or greengrocers.”
Experts have warned that if the weather does not improve in the coming weeks, the problem may continue until April, with customers also likely to be hit by price rises.
The lettuce shortage follows similar problems with the supply of courgettes, while salad peppers, broccoli and cabbage supplies are also under pressure.
Retail analyst Rob Gregory posted a photo on Twitter of empty boxes in a Tesco store and a sign that read: “Due to continued weather problems in Spain, there is a shortage on Iceberg and other varied lettuce products. To protect the availability for all customers, we are limiting bulk purchases to three per person.”
A Tesco spokesman said the chain was “experiencing some availability issues” due to the bad weather in Spain, adding: “[We] are working with our suppliers to resolve them as quickly as possible.”
Mr Lloyd said the bad weather meant supplies were down to 25 or 30 per cent of what would normally come out of Murcia in southern Spain.
He said: “In terms of supplying to Europe, that area has got a tiny amount of supply relative to what it would normally have. And that is going to whoever is prepared to pay for it, so the prices are inevitably going up at the moment.
“For the Spanish growers it is a disastrous season. There is no other way to describe it. People’s livelihoods are at stake.
“It is important to say this is the first time in 30 years … This is a pretty rare occurrence.”