From fuel shortages and global supply chain issues to energy and food price increases, preparation for Christmas has barely started and it’s already been described as a winter of discontent. So, what really lies ahead for the British shopper?
This is not the year to leave your Christmas food shopping list until Christmas Eve in the hope of finding last minute discounts. Whilst suppliers and retailers are working hard to ensure Christmas runs smoothly — with the Prime Minister appointing former Tesco boss Sir David Lewis to advise on supply chains — if the last two years has taught us anything, it’s that it’s hard to predict what’s around the corner!
But, there’s still plenty of time to get organised — pre-planning and flexibility will be key. Here’s the latest news on everything from the turkey and trimmings to toys, tech and trees… and we’ll be keeping our advice updated until the big day.
Why are people worried about shortages?
It’s not surprising that there’s a certain jitteriness over the availability of Christmas stock when there has already been disruption with some gaps on shelves*. GfK’s Consumer Confidence Barometer from September 2021 shows real anxieties about a possible cost of living crisis ahead. Joe Staton, GfK’s Client Strategy Director says: “With the cost of food and fuel forecast to increase, tax hikes and 4% headline inflation biting into our spending power it might be harder to make this year as jolly as we would like. Whilst canny consumers will shop-around seek out the keenest prices, perhaps more people will be stuffing the mattress this Christmas rather than the turkey in anticipation of a tough year ahead.”
Moreover, recent figures from Kantar further show public anxiety around food shortages. It reports that six in 10 Britons (60%) are very/fairly concerned about potential shortages of fresh food over the next few months.
What's happening to global and local supply chains?
As well as labour shortages, energy price increases and now delays getting shipping containers unloaded, there are other issues having an effect on goods in the shops, such as global commodity price rises from wheat to sugar, coffee and palm oil. Andrew Opie, the British Retail Consortium’s Director of Food & Sustainability, said: “Retailers are doing everything they can to protect their customers, and while the situation is likely to become more challenging in the run up to Christmas, retailers will be prioritising the food and products necessary for everyone to enjoy the festive season. We urge consumers to be respectful to their fellow shoppers and to buy as they would do normally.”
What are the supermarkets doing about shortages?
Here's what four of the big retailers told Good Housekeeping...
Sainsbury’s: “It’s too early to tell, however, our colleagues and suppliers are working hard to make sure customers can find everything they need when they shop with us.”
Aldi: “We have been planning for Christmas all year and have been working hard to deliver all of the products our customers need for Christmas. We have a simpler business than other supermarkets, with over three quarters of our sales coming from British suppliers, this helps us to manage any potential supply issues whilst continuing to offer the lowest prices in Britain.”
Morrisons: “We are aligned with the statement from the British Retail Consortium”.
Tesco: “While the industry-wide shortage of HGV drivers has led to some distribution challenges, we’re working hard to address these and to plan for the months ahead, so that customers can get everything they need. We’ve already taken significant steps to make sure availability remains strong throughout the rest of the year.”
Should I shop early for Christmas?
There are definite signs that consumers have started Christmas shopping earlier. Mike Watkins, of analysts NielsenIQ, told The Grocer: “Shoppers tend to leave most of their Christmas grocery shopping later in November, but clearly this year we’re seeing late-November demand brought forward into October because of the concerns consumers have read and heard about, turkeys being a great example.”
New figures from Kantar** shows sales of Christmas puddings were up 76%, toys up by 5% on last year, while gift wrapping products grew by 10%. “It’s important to say, however, that these are still relatively small numbers and anxiety around supply issues has not translated to panic buying – festive or otherwise,” says Fraser McKevitt, Head of Retail and Consumer Insight at Kantar.
When should I book a supermarket delivery slot?
Supermarkets that have already opened their first batch of Christmas delivery slots, including Waitrose and Ocado, have seen them snapped up - although more slots may become available. Tesco’s Delivery Saver Customers can book slots from 16 Nov and non-savers from 23rd Nov. Some supermarkets, including Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s have yet to release their slots. If you are a regular online delivery shopper, it’s worth joining any membership scheme offered by your supermarket as these customers are likely to be given priority.
What foods may be affected by supply issues and what can I do about it?
There have been reports of some dairy farmers having to discard their milk due to HGV lorry driver shortages, but the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers says it is only believed to be a small number. Its Chairman, Peter Alvis, urged consumers not to panic: “Milk and dairy products are still making it through to the supermarket shelves, so it is important consumers continue to shop normally to avoid any shortage situations seen at the start of the pandemic when panic buying occurred.”
We’ve all heard about the shortage of abattoir workers, and farmers having to destroy healthy pigs because of a backlog on farms. If this continues, the focus will be on keeping shelves stocked with simple cuts of meat such as bacon, steaks and chops. Christmas specialities such as pigs in blankets are already under threat. The British Meat Producers Association says: 'We really should have been producing Christmas food from about June or July onwards this year and so far we haven’t... Anything that is labour-intensive work could see shortages.” So party foods and things like pigs in blankets are quite likely to be in shorter supply nearer Christmas.
Turkey suppliers warned earlier this month that we could face a national shortage due to a lack of farm labourers, and that visa changes to allow recruitment from abroad have come too late. Christmas turkey production has dropped by 20% because of staff shortages, according to The British Poultry Council. Chief Executive Richard Griffiths said: “It would be irresponsible to grow more birds than can be slaughtered and processed, which is incredibly frustrating when the demand is there for quality British products.”
While supermarkets say they are well prepared, many shoppers aren’t leaving it to chance. Kantar’s research shows a 35% increase in the sale of frozen poultry and game compared to this time last year. John Lewis told us fresh turkeys are available online for our customers to buy now via its Entertaining by Waitrose service. And of course, you can always book your fresh turkey through local butchers and farm shops online.
Fruit and Veg
There have also been well-publicised labour shortages crippling the fruit and veg supply chain with some farmers throwing open their gates to the public rather than see their crops go to waste. In a joint letter to the Prime Minister, 12 organisations in the food and farming sector last month, said:
“The situation is not improving, in fact, images of empty supermarket shelves are becoming commonplace as labour shortages bite. As we move towards Christmas, there is a substantial threat of food inflation directly impacting the poorest families.” In response, the government has increased the number of visas available under the Seasonal Worker Pilot but it remains to be seen whether this will be enough.
Fizzy drinks and beer
Experts also warn that products reliant on CO2 such as beer and carbonated soft drinks could suffer if the problem with the production of CO2 isn’t dealt with in the long term. The gas is widely used by the food industry to prolong shelf life. Currently, the government is covering operating costs at the UK’s biggest producer.
How can I make sure I get all my food for Christmas?
Follow these 9 food shopping tips to ensure you get your groceries and avoid panic buying...
Do not panic buy - this creates shortages (as we have just demonstrated to ourselves with the petrol crisis).
Budget carefully. Grocery prices are likely to rise further this year.
Get your orders in early.
Keep an eye out for your supermarket Christmas booking delivery slots – members of delivery pass schemes are likely to receive priority.
If you do miss out on delivery slots near Christmas, don’t forget you can click and collect instead. Sainsbury, Waitrose and M&S Food click and collect slots are already open for Christmas collection dates.
Make the most of all frozen foods!
Pace yourself - buy ambient and longer shelf-life products over the next few weeks rather than leaving everything until the last minute.
If in the run up to Christmas you usually stock up with those end of aisle special offers and BOGOF deals (biscuits, sweets, etc) then this year you may need to re-think your strategy for bargain hunting. There are likely to be fewer promotional deals around.
Don’t panic if shelves are restocked more slowly. The shortage of lorry drivers means that supermarkets are getting fewer deliveries so when they run out of something, it takes longer to restock. This can affect everyday items like milk and eggs but doesn’t mean there is a shortage.
What about Christmas present shopping?
As every parent knows, it can be a challenge to get hold of the Christmas must-have toys at the best of times, but this year it could be a case of managing expectations, shopping early and comparing prices.
The toy sector, too, is facing huge global and local supply challenges: a combination of restricted transport options and availability and higher transportation costs are expected to disrupt delivery over coming months.
There is also a global shortage of computer chips – which are needed for electronic toys and toys that produce sound.
A spokesperson for the British Toy & Hobby Association said manufacturers are working around the clock to face down the logistical challenges, telling us: “There are plenty of toys to choose from presently but in common with other sectors’ advice, buying early is prudent, especially if families are seeking a particular toy, game or hobby. More toys are on their way and will continue to be delivered of course to the best of the abilities of toy companies.”
Tips for toy buying:
Toy Retailers’ Association Chair Alan Simpson said he had six words for parents this year: "If you see it, buy it." He also added: "If you think you are going to go into toy stores in December as you normally would do... and you are going to get what you want, you will be very disappointed."
If you need inspiration, the top 10 toys for Christmas from Amazon has just been released with Lego, Harry Potter, Polly Pocket or Fisher Price toys topping the list; which you can view here.
Be prepared to be flexible. You may not get exactly what you set out for but there. won’t be a shortage of toys in general.
Get kids writing their lists to Santa as early as possible! Normally companies order more toys once they see which ones are most popular but this year there may not be time to restock, so buy early.
Gadgets and tech
Experts say that we aren’t likely to see major price rises or widespread shortages of tech this Christmas. But those in-demand devices, such as the latest phones or games consoles, could be a little harder to get hold of. The pandemic exacerbated an already uncertain situation for chip manufacturers. There are reports*** that Apple could reduce its iPhone 13 production targets due to this ongoing global computer chip shortage. You may have to be prepared to wait a few months if stock of the sought-after item you want runs out.
An estimated 6-8 million real trees are sold in the UK every year. And, like many sectors which rely on seasonal workers, this is going to be a challenging harvest. The British Christmas Tree Growers Association says: “Continue to buy your real tree as you usually would. The majority of our growers are consumer-facing, long-established growers which use the same local workers every year and sell directly to their customers. It has meant adapting earlier, planning months in advance to work through these but again, we want to assure the public that there are lots of beautiful trees to go around.”
Many growers will be open soon for the public for "tree tagging" — which means you can choose and reserve your tree from the field. Some Christmas tree growers are offering online ordering. Find your local grower here.
* Office of National Statistics (ONS) show 17% of Brits could not buy grocery products because they were unavailable between September 22 and October 3.
**Based on Worldpanel Plus data for the four weeks to 5 September 2021
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