Experts do not expect individual foods to disappear from supermarket shelves because of climate change. Consumers still have to expect restrictions when doing their weekly shopping.
Scientists at Durham University in the UK recently made a sensational advance. In order to draw attention to the negative effects on the climate and reduce meat consumption, it makes sense to provide the packaging with shocking images and warnings, like cigarettes.
So far, such labels cannot be found in German supermarkets. Climate change is still present when we do our weekly shopping and – intentionally or not – has long had an influence on what ends up in the shopping cart and what it costs. Consumers must expect to feel the consequences of climate change more strongly when doing their weekly shopping in the future.
“There will be greater fluctuations in prices and availability for some foods. There will be years in which certain products such as avocado, cocoa, coffee, mango, coconut, papaya and bananas may become more scarce,” says agricultural expert Michael Berger from the environmental protection organization WWF. For many products, there is only a narrow geographical belt worldwide where the necessary climatic conditions for cultivation exist. More frequent extreme weather events increase the risk of crop failures. “This makes it more difficult for trading companies to calculate. The uncertainty and shortages lead to higher prices,” says Berger.
Poor harvests: oranges, coffee, olive oil, cocoa
According to experts, monocultures are particularly vulnerable – areas where the same plants are grown for years. Extreme weather, infections and pests have an easy time there and can destroy large parts of the crops. Berger points to cocoa growing areas in Bolivia and Colombia, where there have been yield losses of 30 percent in recent years. There were total failures on some plantations.
Due to poor harvests, rampant plant disease and hurricanes, orange juice has recently become scarce and more expensive. Coffee farmers around the world also suffered from severe losses and the consequences of climate change. According to studies, half of the world’s coffee cultivation areas could be threatened by 2050. Coffee roaster Tchibo is therefore expecting prices to rise. Olive oil has recently become scarcer and more expensive. In Spain, the annual yield, which averaged around 1.5 million tons in recent years, fell to less than half in the 2022/2023 season. The reason was that the weather was too dry.
“There will be shifts in the countries of origin”
Stefanie Sabet, Managing Director of the Federal Association of the German Food Industry (BVE), also sees the climate as having a major influence on food production and the basis for production. This no longer only affects emerging countries; domestic cultivation is also severely affected. “There will be shifts in the countries of origin, but I am convinced that it will still be possible to provide a wide range of food options.”
In some growing areas it will become more difficult due to the climate, but new ones could be developed elsewhere. “A few years ago, no one would have thought that we could grow soy on the Danube or melons in Germany. Today it’s possible.” Milder climates and longer vegetation periods allowed more frequent harvests.
What also gives Sabet hope are new, more heat-resistant varieties that are emerging more quickly through new breeding technologies that specifically intervene in the plant genome. Irrigation systems for drought periods and better forecasts would help adapt to the climate and increasing extreme weather events. “Climate change cannot be stopped, but we have some options to adapt to the consequences.”
Survey: Every second person is worried about availability
Experts do not expect individual products to completely disappear from supermarket shelves. Consumers are still worried. According to a Yougov survey, one in two people are either “completely” or “somewhat worried” that foods such as cocoa, coffee or certain vegetables may no longer be available or only be available to a limited extent.
Food retailers are trying to keep the impact on customers as low as possible. When it comes to fruit and vegetables, we look at whether and what alternatives there are with regard to the respective growing country and aim to spread the risk, says a Rewe spokesman. For example, stone fruit is sourced from Italy and Spain. With the help of new techniques, it was possible to optimize strawberry cultivation in Spain and minimize the effects of the climate. Another country of origin has been opened up in Greece.
In order to reduce its dependence on imports, Rewe has been increasingly focusing on expanding its regional products for several years. Depending on the region, the seasonal product range includes 50 to 190 different regional items. Kaufland also says it is increasingly focusing on local production and regionality.
Climate drives inflation
IMF expert Berger sees the future of cultivation primarily in diversifying systems such as organic farming. Although this is more complex to operate and produces less yield on the same area, it is more adaptable and resilient to climate change. The effects of climate change would be reduced. This would make food more available but more expensive “to cover the higher costs of production.”
Consumers in Germany have recently had to get used to higher food prices. Inflation has deteriorated somewhat recently. However, consumers must expect that prices will continue to rise – also because of climate change. Experts from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research calculated this in more detail last year. The result: Increased average temperatures could increase annual food inflation and core inflation by up to 1.18 percent by 2035.