SHORTAGES of fruit and vegetables have helped push food inflation levels to a new record during the past month, reaching highs of 15%.

Food inflation accelerated strongly in March, up from 14.5% in February, the British Retail Consortium's (BRC) index shows.

This was the highest monthly rate since the BRC began collecting data in 2005.

The largest price increases affected fresh foods, with inflation up 0.7 points to 17%.

The increases were caused by poor harvests in Europe and North Africa which worsened availability.

Imports also became more expensive due to the weakening pound, the BRC explained.

However, despite the new record, food prices will 'likely ease in the coming months'.

Chief executive of the BRC, Helen Dickinson said: “Retailers continue to work hard to keep prices, particularly of essentials, as low as possible by expanding value ranges and offering discounts for vulnerable groups.

"Government must also minimise oncoming regulatory burdens, as these will serve as a drag on investment and will ultimately contribute to higher prices for UK consumers.”

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It follows the UK's largest retailers imposing national purchasing restrictions on fruit and vegetables earlier this month due to extreme weather hitting harvests.

Asda, Morrisons, Aldi and Tesco had placed purchasing limits on items such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.

Meanwhile, more than 35,000 members of the public have signed the NFU's petition which calls on the government to commit to 'simple steps' to bolster British food security.

The NFU said the government must have a plan to secure British food supply "now and into the future".

Head of retail at NielsenIQ, which helps compile the BRC's data, Mike Watkins, said inflation continued to have an impact on the spending power of shoppers.

"Since food prices have risen retailers have seen more visits but less basket spend, as shoppers manage their weekly food bills by shopping little and more often and seeking out the lowest prices.

"And as Easter approaches some high street retailers will also be offering discounts and promotions to encourage customers to spend.”