It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Well, almost.
After a pretty tough twelve months, we’ve reached that point in the calendar when shops begin being decked with boughs of holly, and shelves are stocked with everything from mulled wine to turkeys.
Thankfully, this year promises to be a massive improvement on the cancelled Christmas of 2020 – but things are far from back to normal just yet.
Without wishing to be too “Bah! Humbug”, suppliers of a host of festive essentials have warned that stocks might not be quite at the levels we’re used to.
As the prime minister appoints a supply-chain tsar to advise on the looming shortages, we’ve taken a look at a few of the festive treats that may be in short supply...
The bird that sits at the centre of millions of Christmas dinner tables will be a bit less ubiquitous this year. A shortage of workers forced poultry farmers to cut production by around a fifth – between 500,000 and 750,000 birds.
Non-UK workers left the country after Brexit, and a government visa scheme for 5,500 poultry production-line staff has come too late, the industry says. Turkeys, it turns out, can’t be grown overnight.
Pigs in blankets
A lack of labour is also causing havoc for pig farmers, who have begun culling animals and incinerating them because there aren’t enough staff in abattoirs.
A backlog is building and the industry warns that as many as 120,000 pigs may have to be culled. Meat processors say they need 15,000 extra workers, but the government is offering just 1,000 temporary visas for butchers. Meat industry trade bodies say it’s too late to prevent disruption to supplies.
The likely outcome is more meat imports from elsewhere, which British farmers say are generally of inferior quality and produced to lower welfare standards.
Lamb and beef
There’s some more positive news on lamb and beef, should you be seeking an alternative to turkey. Britain has plentiful supplies and they are not threatened in the same way that pork is.
Unlike pigs, cows and sheep are mostly reared outside and grass-fed. If there is a backlog at the abattoir, farmers can leave these animals to graze. Most pigs are kept in sheds, and they have a smaller window in which they must be killed before they are deemed not suitable for consumption.
A boom in online shopping and home deliveries has increased demand for packaging, including cardboard, putting pressure on supplies. The cost of shipping all sorts of goods around the world has also risen sharply, helping to further push up the price of paper pulp.
We are not likely to run out of wrapping paper, but it may be more expensive. Now may be the time to raid the cupboards for rolls of paper stashed away in years past.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the beloved evergreen fir trees that brighten up our living rooms.
Alas, retailers are saying that higher costs for shipping, pallets and fertiliser, combined with a lack of workers, have affected supplies. Brexit red tape has also been a factor.
Mark Rofe, who owns Christmastrees.co.uk, says retail prices will be between 5 per cent and 10 per cent higher this year. He added: “It’s going to be more challenging to get hold of a real Christmas tree this festive season. However, if you are able to get one, you can expect to be paying more than you would have in previous years.”
An important ingredient for any modern festive experience has been a massive oversupply of chocolate to gorge on, preferably while remaining sedentary for days.
Not in 2021. Nestle, one of the world’s biggest food producers and the maker of Quality Street, says it’s not been immune from the global supply-chain problems hitting everyone else. Roses, anyone?
Beer and fizzy soft drinks
For some, the thought of a teetotal Christmas with members of their extended family may be unappealing. So the news in September of a shortage of CO2, which is used to put the fizz in beer and soft drinks, may have caused alarm.
Fear not, beer and fizzy drinks will still be available, but supplies are under a bit more pressure than usual. The government has handed millions of pounds to an American fertiliser company that supplies 60 per cent of the UK’s CO2, and allowed it to fix prices. Christmas has come early for some!
Like the Grinch that stole Christmas, the bosses of toy companies have been lining up to warn that kids may miss out on some of their favourite gifts.
Toy sales boomed during the pandemic as parents sought to entertain children who were stuck at home. Manufacturers are facing a familiar set of problems, including a lack of raw materials and expensive shipping.
Barbie maker Mattel has said it’s been affected, while UK retailer The Entertainer has also warned about stock levels.
Top of many lists to Santa will be the latest incarnation of Sony’s perennially popular games console, the PlayStation 5, which has been hard to find all year.
Gamers have been closely watching for “drops” of the PS5 at various retailers as stock trickles through. Sony has been struggling with a global shortage of the microchips that are found in everything from cars and consoles to stairlifts and defibrillators.
The few factories that produce the chips shut down last year and have struggled to keep up with surging demand this year. The pandemic has caused a shift to living more of our lives online, meaning we have bought more electronic devices.
The great PS5 shortage is likely to worsen over Christmas, so follow our live updates on where to get stock.
Gas prices have spiked to record levels thanks to a whole host of factors all coming together at once. A cold winter depleted supplies, and a mild summer meant renewables like wind and solar generated less electricity.
Higher demand for liquified natural gas in Asia has left Europe competing for a smaller supply, while Russia has limited the amount it sends through its pipelines.
What does all this mean for the average household? Bills are rising fast. The energy price cap went up 12 per cent to £1,277 from the start of October, and experts predict it could rise by a further £400 in April. Cheap deals have disappeared, so heating homes is going to be pricier this winter.
Petrol station forecourts have run dry over the past few weeks and many remain empty, particularly in the southeast of England. A lack of tanker drivers initially caused shortages at some locations and prompted a round of panic-buying.
Supplies are expected to get back to normal in the coming days, but further problems at the pumps can’t be ruled out if people again decide to stock up for the Christmas period.
Hospitals have been even more stretched than usual this year, dealing with a summer crisis that bodes ill for the winter months.
A number of trusts have declared “black alerts” due to a shortage of beds, increasing numbers of Covid patients, and rising numbers of people turning up to A&E.
A lack of intensive care beds has meant routine surgeries, including for some cancer patients, have been cancelled across England.
All of which puts a lack of PlayStations, Quality Street and turkey into perspective.
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