From bubbly to pigs in blankets - will shortages impact Christmas dinner?

There have been warnings over shortages at Christmas.

There have been warnings over shortages at Christmas, but retailers are confident it won't affect shoppers' Christmas dinners. - Credit: Various

Be flexible, buy local and prepare for a scaled-back affair - that's the message from food producers gearing up for Christmas.

After last year's cancelled celebrations, anticipation is building for a normal festive season, with loved ones coming together to eat and drink.

While supply chain disruption and shortages have threatened to dash those hopes, farmers and owners say our tables will still be heaving with Christmas dinner staples.

Flexibility will be key, though, as businesses navigate shortages, lack of staff, limited products and delivery delays.

So what will make it to the Christmas table?

Christmas dinner. Picture: Matthew Usher

Christmas dinner. Picture: Matthew Usher - Credit: Matthew Usher

Turkey 

The British Poultry Council earlier this month lifted a shortages warning, reassuring shoppers there would be plenty to go around.

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There was a caveat, though - less variety, with a focus on whole birds and simple crowns and roasts.

But the fear had already settled in, with sales of frozen supermarket turkeys soaring. As of October, they were up 400pc year-on-year.

Jamie Archer, centre, with Ollie Baxter, left, and Ian Plunkett, at Archer's Butchers, after they wo

The Archers butchers team outside the Plumstead Road shop in Norwich. - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

Norfolk butchers say they aren't worried about supply. 

Archers, in Norwich's Plumstead Road, has roughly 600 orders for collection around Christmas Day in the books, owner Jamie Archer said. He doubts they'll pass last year's 1,000.

The Christmas Together Lunch is taking place at St Lukes Church in Beccles.

Turkey is often the centrepiece of a Christmas dinner. - Credit: PA

"Last year we sold a lot of smaller turkeys and joints of beef," he said. "This year, people are allowed larger groups, so I think we’ll sell heavier joints to fewer people.”

He said suppliers had asked them to cap orders in case of a shortage, but said there had been no indication that would be the case.

Drinks

A glass of wine or champagne will go hand-in-hand with many Christmas dinners.

The Wine and Spirits Trade Association (WSTA) has urged the government to solve the lorry driver shortage to ensure drinks made it to customers for Christmas.

Maxwell Graham-Wood, at Satchells Wines in Burnham Market, said its only shortages had been bigger champagne brands, but that it had been business as usual for wine.

Sam Howard, of Harper Wells, which is based in Norwich, said there were shortages in the industry, but agreed they were unlikely to hit customers.

But he said that was partly due to the flexibility of independents, which can more easily switch suppliers and find alternatives. 

"As an independent we are much more light-footed than the bigger internationals," he said.

He said shortages and delays meant they had done much of their Christmas ordering already, while in past years they would have been better able to respond to last-minute demand.

If customers hoping for a specific product were flexible, he said, shops would be able to find alternatives.

Charlie Tacon's farm at Rollesby has seen some of its Christmas sprouts damaged by diamondback moth

Charlie Tacon, a farmer in Rollesby. - Credit: Archant

Sprouts and parsnips 

Shortages of staff to pick, pack and deliver vegetables have threatened to see fewer options on our shelves.

Jack Pearce, director of Setchey-based Alfred G Pearce, which grows and processes ready-prepared vegetables including carrots, parsnips and onions, said: "We have had to restrict volume slightly due to labour shortages.

"We will produce what our customers want. There will be food on the shelves, but perhaps not as much or as much variety."

The Food Enterprise Park at Easton aims to attract food processing businesses to Norfolk. Picture: M

Alfred G Pearce says there won't be gaps on the shelves this Christmas, but that it will be focusing on core products.

He said new or experimental products - giving an example of honey and apricot glazed parsnips - would be harder to find, but that there wouldn't be gaps of essentials on shelves.

And lovers of Brussels sprouts can rejoice - while national producers may suffer from the same staff and driver shortages, Emma Tacon said at her family-run farm at Rollesby it was business as usual, with locals helping pick and deliver the sprouts.

The pigs in blankets at the Norwich Open Christmas for the vulnerable and people in need. Picture: D

There were warnings earlier this year of pigs in blankets shortages. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY

Pigs in blankets

In summer, it was warned the Christmas staple - sausages wrapped in bacon - could be under threat, with numbers potentially down by a third.

But Adam Couch, chief executive, Cranswick Country Foods, which has a base in Watton, said earlier this month the business was on track and was overcoming many of the expected challenges.

Of course, there are also DIY ways to stock up - wrapping bacon around sausages.

Mince pie forms ready for filling at Krusty Loaf in Fakenham. Picture: Stuart Anderson

Mince pie forms ready for filling at Krusty Loaf in Fakenham. Picture: Stuart Anderson - Credit: Archant

Mince pies

A lack of foil cases and lorry drivers delivering dried fruit have been among the warnings over mince pie supplies.

Supermarkets have reported a year-on-year increase in sales already, while local bakeries are now launching their offerings.

Norfolk and Waveney cheese to enjoy this Christmas and New Year.

Norfolk and Waveney cheese to enjoy this Christmas and New Year. - Credit: Archant

Cheese

Cheese boards may have missing favourites or new additions this year.

Shortages are seeing some cheesemakers avoid more labour-intensive Christmas options - including smaller, waxed cheeses or selection packs - while delivery issues could see supermarkets prioritise best-sellers.

Harper Wells also runs Fredricks Fine Food in Diss, and Mr Howard said independents would still be able to provide varied cheese boards, even if some weren't available.

"There are lots of 'out of stocks', partly because of the growth in artisan cheese product demand," he said.

"But we are also seeing products that wouldn't usually go out of stock running out, and when you scratch the surface it's usually because of something down the supply chain," he said, giving wooden cases as an example.

Supermarket food prices are increasing due to inflation. Picture: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Supermarket food prices are increasing due to inflation. Picture: Julien Behal/PA Wire - Credit: PA

And what about prices?

From fertiliser to feed and packaging to personnel, farmers and producers have faced rising costs.

Meanwhile, annual grocery price inflation reached 2.1pc in October this year, the highest since August 2020, according to analysts Kantar.

Those increases are likely to end up on our Christmas shopping bills. Here, we've looked a handful of pricier products.

Industry estimates suggest consumers could see increases of 5pc to 10pc for turkeys - for a 5kg bird which costs £55, it would mean an extra £2.75 to £5.50.

According to analysis by Assosia and The Guardian, comparing prices from November 11, 2020, to November 11 this year, a 1kg bag of carrots could be up 3p, Paxo sage and onion stuffing mix by 11p and a nut roast up by 17p.

Empty food shelves in Sainsbury's store in Bangor, Co Down. Boris Johnson has admitted there are "te

There have been scenes of empty shelves at supermarkets around the UK, but retailers are confident it will not be the case at Christmas. - Credit: PA

The supply shortage explained

Shortages have been caused by disruptions in supply chains, blighting many sectors.

It has partly been caused by Brexit, which prompted an exodus of European workers who businesses have been unable to replace.

Labour shortages have impacted farms and factories, sparked a HGV driver crisis and impacted sectors including health and social care.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) has called for urgent government intervention to ease the problem.

But Mr Pearce said the issue had exposed other underlying structural problems, such as difficulties in recruiting younger people into manufacturing roles.

In the hospitality sector, the problem has been compounded by workers changing careers during the lockdowns of the pandemic, and not returning to the industry's unsociable hours.

In many industries, it is prompting a rethink of pay, conditions and recruitment of new staff. 

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