Tomato shortage: supermarket rationing and 'disgusting' food price rises create 'nightmare' for Italian restaurant Ballaro' in Burnley

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A Burnley chef claims the current tomato shortage is the “hardest time” for restaurants in nearly four decades.

The team behind Italian eatery Ballaro’ in Barracks Road faces the “nightmare” of sourcing scarce staple ingredients like tomatoes, peppers, oil, and flour as wholesalers more than double their prices in a few weeks. Meanwhile, supermarkets are rationing fruit and vegetables.

Simon Widdup, joint owner and head chef, likened supermarket measures to deal with the tomato shortage resulting from summer droughts and harsh frosts last year to “World War Two rationing”. He called it another blow to the hospitality industry following the pandemic, avian flu outbreak and cost of living crisis.

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Simon, who owns Ballaro’ with Sionny Williams and Francesco Tutrone, said: "I’ve been in this job for 37 years, and I think the past six months have been the hardest time.”

Simon Widdup, Sionny Williams and Francesco Tutrone, owners of Ballaro' in Barracks Road, Burnley.Simon Widdup, Sionny Williams and Francesco Tutrone, owners of Ballaro' in Barracks Road, Burnley.
Simon Widdup, Sionny Williams and Francesco Tutrone, owners of Ballaro' in Barracks Road, Burnley.

Peppers sold wholesale have rocketed from £13.99 a box to nearly £32, while a kilo of meat jumped by £11 in a day last fortnight, according to the businessman. Fresh tomatoes rose from £11.99 a box to £19.99, and £11.99 a case to £24.99 for the tinned variety, while olive oil shot up by £12 per five litres.

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Simon's business partner Sionny, who also runs takeaway Kenanks from the Barracks Road premises and has Birds Fish and Chip Shop in Rosegrove Lane, called the price rises “ridiculous” and “disgusting”, adding: "I think the life is being squeezed out of small businesses”.

Simon does not want to bulk-buy as Ballaro' has a reputation for cooking fresh food daily. Instead, he must “ping-pong” between sellers to find the best deal possible.

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He now also shops in supermarkets – but is met by restrictions.

“You wouldn't believe how hard it is [to source ingredients]. We’re back to World War Two rationing. There are rations in supermarkets for everybody on items like tomatoes and peppers, and I’ve only been able to buy three of each at a time.

“If I’m not in Aldi by 10am, then I won’t find anything.”

Families are “in the same boat” - Simon’s shopping bill has doubled at home. And experts predict food shortages will last until March.

Sionny has told her Kenanks staff not to order any tomatoes for salad garnishes to prioritise Ballaro’s menu, which relies heavily on the fruit.

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She said: “There were no tomatoes or peppers in [wholesaler] Booker earlier this week. It’s hard to get hold of the things that are the base of everything in the kitchen. It’s a joke.

“We can feel the price of other ingredients slowly creeping up. It’s a full-time job constantly reviewing the cost of everything. You can’t predict what will happen. It’s frustrating.”

Despite their troubles, the owners said Ballaro’ remains busy and thanked the public for its support.

Simon said: “Burnley is a sensational place. We’re trying our hardest to give our customers what they want, even in these hard times.”

And Sionny added: “We’re so grateful that people are still coming through the door. The support from Burnley people has been amazing.”

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