British families should buy their Christmas dinner in advance and keep it in the freezer, retail experts have warned amid fears supermarkets could run out of festive items including pigs in blankets, hams and party foods in the run up to the winter holiday.
Industry analysts have sounded the alarm over a shortage of butchers which means that farmers believe have to ‘throw pigs in a skip’ because they can’t be slaughtered and carved – with 150,000 animals under threat of being culled in the next ten days.
The meat crisis is compounding woes caused by a lack of HGV drivers and fuel as well as labour shortages that will lead to a ‘distinct lack of choice’ this year, with many essential Christmas gifts and foods scarce or missing completely in a blow to millions of people.
Though the Home Office has announced plans to allow 5,500 poultry workers and 5,000 lorry drivers to enter the UK on three-month work visas due to expire on Christmas Eve, industry is already warning that the Government’s measures this week are ‘too little, too late’.
James Withers, of Scotland Food & Drink, told the Independent that families should ‘ plan ahead’ and freeze what they can as early as possible to avoid having missing ingredients to a traditional Christmas dinner.
‘Ultimately, now I think we have just run out of time,’ he warned. ‘I don’t think there is anything that can be done now to get the Christmas trade where it should be. That’s despite warnings being sounded since the summer of the scale of the potential labour shortage we might face.’
Lady Ruby McGregor-Smith, the president of the British Chambers of Commerce, called the Government’s visa package ‘the equivalent of throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire’. The British Retail Consortium also warned 5,000 lorry driver visas would not be enough to prevent Christmas disruption.
In a bid to dampen fears, Tory chairman Oliver Dowden told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday that people would be able to get turkeys for Christmas – adding that there were supply chain problems across the world but issues with turkey production were being addressed.
‘We will make sure that people have their turkeys for Christmas,’ he said. ‘I know that the Environment Secretary George Eustice, this is absolutely top of his list.’
He also acknowledged ‘there are challenges with supply chains’ across the economy, adding: ‘We are not unique in the UK in this. If you look across Poland, the US, other countries, there are shortages of drivers – that’s to do with a range of factors.’
It comes as Boris Johnson arrives in Manchester for the Tory Party conference dogged by domestic supply-chain issues, an energy crisis and concerns of a cost-of-living crisis caused by soaring inflation, the end of furlough, and tax rises looming in the Spring.
Britons were warned that a ‘nightmare’ Christmas is looming as the growing list of items set to be in short-supply come December 25 stretched to include pigs in blankets, hams and party foods. Turkeys, drinks, toys and furniture will also be hard to get
Families should buy their Christmas dinner in advance and keep it in the freezer, retail experts have warned amid fears supermarkets could run out of festive items including pigs in blankets, hams and party foods in the run up to the holiday (stock image)
A staff member on an isle at a Tesco store in Swansea, south Wales (stock image)
Britain faces a ‘double whammy’ of food-price rises that will squeeze consumers already facing drastic hikes in energy and household bills, experts warn
Britain faces a ‘double whammy’ of food-price rises that will squeeze consumers already facing drastic hikes in energy and household bills.
Food industry experts warned shoppers to brace themselves for an increase of ‘four or five per cent’ by the end of November followed by a similar rise in January.
David Sables, a food industry veteran who helps suppliers negotiate with big firms, said the first set of price hikes were linked to rising cost of commodities, raw materials and labour in recent months.
But he warned the effects of the current gas crisis, lorry driver shortage and carbon dioxide shortages had not yet filtered through.
CO2 is used in food production, including salad bags and meat packaging, and soaring gas bills have forced some suppliers to shut.
Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, told the Financial Tim4es it is not clear whether even turkey supplies can be protected.
‘You can’t apply for a visa until October 15. It then takes three to four weeks to process in a best-case scenario, but the build-up for Christmas needs to start in early November. There is a feeling across producers that it’s ‘too little, too late’ and this should have been done six months ago,’ he says.
Richard Burnett, head of the Road Haulage Association, added: ‘Christmas doesn’t just happen. It takes a huge amount of planning and we can’t even sustain normal delivery volumes at the moment. The build-up starts now, but at the pre-Christmas peak you could expect to push out three times normal volumes.’
David Jinks, the head of consumer research at express delivery company ParcelHero, says the UK’s supply-chain is now ‘riddled’ with holes.
Retail analyst Clive Black of Shore Capital said: ‘A lot of people eating on Christmas Day will be asking: ‘What the hell is this?’.’
Shoppers were told last week that a raft of items from turkey to beer as well as fizzy drinks and electronic goods are under threat this Christmas amid the supply chain crisis. British families may also struggle to find toys and sofas or get them delivered in time.
Ministers have already they cannot guarantee that there won’t be shortages this Christmas with serious problems emerging in the meat sector.
The Cabinet is now said to be considering easing visa restrictions for up to 1,000 foreign butchers to avert the crisis – but the Times claims that Priti Patel is against it and concerned they are being pushed by British industry to move back towards pre-Brexit freedom of movement
But the British Meat Processors Association says that the 1,000 EU butchers is still 14,000 short of the 15,000 the country needs. This means that businesses are focussing on keeping supermarkets stocked with simple cuts of meat such as bacon, steaks and chops, meaning Christmas favourites such as pigs in blankets and hams could be in short supply
A BMPA spokesperson said: ‘We really should have been producing Christmas food from about June or July onwards this year and so far we haven’t, so there’ll be shortages of party foods and things like pigs in blankets. Anything that is labour-intensive work could see shortages.’
The chairman of the National Pig Association, Rob Mutimer, said: ‘The problem in the industry has got very considerably worse over the last three weeks and we are within a couple of weeks of actually having to consider a mass cull of animals in this country.
He said: ‘It is very difficult to say how many there are. We think our backlog is in the region of 100 to 120,000 as we stand here today. It is growing by around 12,000 a week at the moment.’
Asked what a mass cull would mean, he said: ‘It involves either shooting pigs on farm or taking them to an abattoir, killing the animals and actually disposing them in a skip at the other end of the chain.
‘So these animals won’t go into the food chain, they will either be rendered or if not, sent for incineration. It is an absolute travesty.’
He said farms are not equipped to cope with holding that many animals – and of that size.
He said: ‘No, on our farm our pigs are usually around about 115 kilos when they go to slaughter and they have been now getting up to around the 140 kilo mark. The pens and the sheds and everything just weren’t designed for animals of this size and we are really heading into an acute welfare disaster very quickly.’
Food industry experts warned shoppers to brace themselves for an increase of ‘four or five per cent’ by the end of November followed by a similar rise in January
A shopper looks at the empty shelves of Christmas Turkey in Sainsbury’s supermarket in north London
Retail experts are warning of a grim Christmas. Clive Black of Shore Capital told the Mirror: ‘I expect Christmas will be a nightmare. Shortages of labour have meant businesses have not laid down the same number of turkeys or planted the same number of crops.
‘Equally if the CO2 problem does not settle, expect beer and carbonated soft drinks to be in short supply – and a lot more expensive.’
Home Secretary Priti Patel is said to be resisting the move to recruit foreign butchers.
A Home Office spokesperson told PA: ‘We are closely monitoring labour supply and working with sector leaders to understand how we can best ease particular pinch points. Similar challenges are being faced by other countries around the world.
‘We want to see employers make long-term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad. Our Plan for Jobs is helping people across the country retrain, build new skills and get back into work.
‘The Government encourages all sectors to make employment more attractive to UK domestic workers through offering training, careers options wage increases and investment.’
A spokesman for the Department For Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told the PA news agency it was aware of labour shortages.
‘We understand the importance of seasonal labour and we are aware of the challenges that the pig industry has faced in recent months because of the Covid-19 pandemic and labour shortages, and Defra has been working closely with the pig and processing sectors during this time,’ he said.
‘We are keeping the market under close review and continuing to work closely with the sector to explore options to address the pressures industry is currently facing.’
Clive Black has also warned turkeys could be replaced by nut roasts and many people will ask ‘what the hell is this’ when they look at their plate on Christmas Day.