However, most of the limits have been introduced in areas of Leicester which have large Asian populations. Retailers including Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Lidl have introduced quotas for the staple food, which has increased in price worldwide by 70 per cent in a year. It is believed to be the first time major stores have limited purchases of such foodstuffs since sugar and bread were restricted in the Seventies because of strikes by producers. Netto, the Danish-owned chain with 184 UK stores, has limited its 10kg bags of rice to one per customer. Lidl, the German-owned cut-price group with 380 British outlets, has restricted purchases to 'family volumes' to stop bulk-buying by traders.
Tesco said that for two weeks its store in the Hamilton area of Leicester had limited customers to two packs of rice per person. But a spokeswoman said,''There is no supply problem. Rice was restricted for a couple of weeks at one store only. No other Tesco stores have been affected.'' Customers at the Morrisons store at Freemans Park, Leicester, were being restricted to six packs of rice, regardless of size, per customer.
The Asda store at nearby Thurmaston imposed similar restrictions, but at a national level the company denied it had any rationing in place. The run on rice supplies in the UK follows rationing imposed in the United States by Wal-Mart and its discount warehouse Sam's Club. One of the reasons for the soaring cost of rice includes the rising demand in the Far East as living standards have improved.
The price of a 1kg bag of basmati rice which is popular with curries has risen 27 per cent at Tesco and Asda and 39 per cent at Sainsbury's in the past year, according to comparison by website MySupermarket.co.uk. The knock-on effect of similar rises and global concern could now lead to an increase in the cost of Indian and Chinese meals and takeaways. Exports have been blocked by China, India, Vietnam and Egypt, which is increasing the uncertainty.
A British Retail Consortium spokesman said,''Supermarkets are aware of issues of global supply and have already taken necessary steps to ensure adequate rice supplies.'' We are confident there won't be shortages on shelves, she added. Tilda, the UK's biggest rice brand, has warned that prices could still rise by more than a third. However, the company said it would be able to maintain supplies.