Christmas shortages: what are Britons ordering this year?

Early sales are surging across a range of goods, from toys to frozen turkeys and festive decorations

“Be prepared” is the motto for Christmas this year as British shoppers order favourite foods, trees and lights earlier than ever to ensure they get what they need for the big day. Potential shortages of workers to process and pack meat and vegetables and to deliver presents and decorations have prompted surge in early orders in the following areas:


pigs in blankets
Traditional accompaniments to the Christmas dinner, such as pigs in blankets, could be in short supply due to shortages in meat processing workers. Photograph: ATStockFoto/Alamy Stock Photo

Grocery chain Iceland says sales of frozen turkey are up by 409% year on year and mince pie sales are up 10% as people prepare earlier than usual for Christmas. Meanwhile, the number of people who have already booked their Christmas grocery delivery with Waitrose has more than doubled on this time last year to about 22,000.

John Pallagi, boss of Yorkshire-based online butcher Farmison, says orders made in September for December are up 150% compared with this time last year, and were particularly strong this week as the fuel crisis prompted wider supply concerns. “Last year people were buying early because they were worried about Christmas being cancelled. It was phenomenal. This year it has gone [up] again, particularly in the last five days.”

The surge in early purchases comes as labour shortages on farms and at food processing facilities, as well as a lack of lorry drivers, mean that some festive favourites may be more difficult to find than usual.

One supermarket source said there was no shortage of turkeys but there were concerns about finding sufficient workers to process them and sourcing CO2, production of which has been affected by high gas prices, to slaughter them. “Today we think it will be fine but there are a lot of unknowns,” the source said.

British turkey producers have laid down a fifth fewer birds than last year, according to the British Poultry Council, because of concerns about finding workers to slaughter and process them.

Richard Griffiths, the chief executive of the BPC, says he expects there will be enough birds to go round but there will be less choice, particularly on products such as three-bird roasts, or ready-stuffed or garnished birds as suppliers offset worker shortages by focusing on simpler products.

Meat processors have also warned about potential shortages of complex ready-made dishes such as pigs in blankets for the same reason.

Griffiths says if there are shortages in the UK, then supermarkets are likely to fill gaps on shelves with birds brought in from Europe. If finding a turkey does become difficult, retailers suggest that beef or lamb, which are slaughtered without CO2, could be easier to find.

Trees and decorations

Christmas lights may be more difficult to source this year.
Christmas lights may be more difficult to source this year. Photograph: Tevarak/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Families have begun to order their lights and artificial Christmas trees earlier than ever over fears of shortages prompted by delivery problems and factory shutdowns in east Asia. John Lewis says sales of its Cotswold artificial trees were up 1,300% in the first three weeks of September compared with last year. Sales of neon lights are up more than 2,000%.

Online seller Christow says its stocks of artificial trees are 40% below the level it had hoped for, after Covid-related stoppages in east Asia meant its suppliers could not deliver on time. However, sales of lights have more than doubled and trees are up 570% in September on top of exceptionally strong growth last year.

Christow’s e-commerce director, Josh Piercy, says: “We are probably going to sell out in November. Customers should probably not wait too long if they want to get [a particular] tree.”

Toys and games

Radio-controlled car
Radio-controlled cars and buggies may be in short supply given the global shortage in computer chips. Photograph: bighugcreative/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Deliveries of toys, like many other household goods including clothing and furnishings, have been affected by disruption to international shipping and stoppages at factories caused by the pandemic.

Gary Grant, owner of The Entertainer chain, says his stores are stocked with about 10% more toys – by value – than last year, as the group has tried to head off any last-minute issues with deliveries.

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He says a number of shipping containers containing his stock finally left east Asian ports in the past 10 days, putting them on target to reach the UK by the end of the month or early November. However, Grant is concerned about deliveries within the UK, where competition for workers is already fierce while pay is going up.

The LOL Surprise toys.
A LOL Surprise doll. Photograph: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

A worldwide shortage of microchips has also affected supplies of items such as radio-controlled cars and gaming equipment, while demand is outstripping supply for goods themed around the online game Among Us and the LOL! Surprise range of dolls. Grant and other big toy retailers say there are no signs of early buying at present, but note it will be difficult to restock on bestsellers given the delivery disruptions.

“You wouldn’t notice any difference in stores now,” Grant says. “But when the sellout starts it will happen quite quickly. It is not about now but when we get into November when the full weight of Christmas kicks into gear. You will start to notice shortages.”


Sarah Butler

The GuardianTramp

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