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2 Dec 2021

What shortages and price rises mean for your essential Christmas shopping

What does it mean for you? From stocking up on essential Christmas dinner ingredients to planning ahead

Many shoppers are buying Christmas food and gifts early this year due to concern around shortages and rising prices, our research has found.

In our survey of 2,000 UK adults*

  • Three in four (76%) are concerned about food prices while 56% are concerned about food shortages.
  • Half of respondents (51%) are concerned about fuel or petrol shortages.
  • A quarter (24%) are worried about shortages of toys and gifts for Christmas.

But the impact isn't being felt evenly with those in lower income households more concerned, but less able to act in the face of rising prices.

Here we explain what products could be in short supply or increase in price, what you can do about it and what it means for your future household finances. 

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Should you be concerned by food shortages and prices this Christmas?

By 22 October nearly one in three had already bought their Christmas turkey or were planning to buy early. One in five plan to buy chicken, sausages and pigs in blankets earlier than usual.

The increase in early purchases comes amid fears that shortages on farms and at food processing facilities, as well as a lack of lorry drivers, mean some festive favourites may be more difficult to find this year.

1. Meat: poultry, pork, beef and lamb

David Swales, Head of strategic insight, Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (ADHB) says: 'Although there have been issues in pig farming there is more than enough pork in the supply chain.

'There may be fewer pigs in blankets on shelves, this is because they're labour intensive to produce and due to staff shortages, some manufacturers will have dropped them from their ranges'.

On the positive side he says 'supplies of pork cuts, sausages and bacon shouldn't be affected and the cost of cuts of pork have come down'. He adds 'there's plenty of British beef and lamb on the market'.

Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association, agrees adding that as well as pigs in blankets being scarce, other 'labour intensive foods such as speciality gammons and party foods and canapes may be in short supply'.

Andrew Opie, Director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC) tells us: 'We know there are issues with British turkeys this year: producers not rearing as many as normal to match capability at processing plants and avoid waste'.

However it's unlikely there will be shortages. A streamlining of product variety and the ability to import turkeys if necessary means everyone who wants a turkey should be able to buy one.

How to make your own pigs in blankets - tips on what type of sausages and bacon to use, how to freeze and finishing touches

2. Vegetables and fresh produce

It's harder to buy vegetables in advance as they need to be fresh for Christmas dinner.

David tells us: 'Issues with availability of veg will be related to shortages of labour in packing and transport, not availability of produce'.

Andrew says: 'Demand for fresh produce increases 30% in the final two weeks before Christmas. This might lead to some interruptions in the supply chain, as fewer HGV drivers mean shelves won't be replenished as frequently. But if you can't get something one day it should be available the next.

supermarket shelf

Best places to buy your Christmas food - see which retailers have the best (and best-value) Christmas food and veg according to our survey

3. Dairy and other affected foods

David tells us the 'shortage of HGV drivers means dairy farmers might only have a collection every other day instead of every day but the processing of milk is very mechanised so less impacted by labour shortages'.

To cope with the shortages of workers and HGV drivers, manufacturers and supermarkets are streamlining their product ranges and prioritising what they transport. This means you might only have a choice of one and four pints of milk, not two pints. Or two types of chutney instead of the usual four.

4. Beer, wine and spirits

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) says rising costs and supply chain chaos have held up deliveries. Imports were now taking up to five times longer than a year ago, it said.

Industry leaders have warned of a 'cocktail of chaos' that they say could lead to Christmas alcohol shortages.

In a letter sent to transport secretary Grant Shapps last week a group of 49 wine and spirits firms said rising costs and supply chain chaos have caused delays in wine and spirit deliveries which could lead to empty drinks aisles in supermarkets.

See which champagne, sparkling wine, red wine, low-alcohol beer and port to snap up in our food and drink reviews.

5. Plan ahead and shop in advance

For the 21% of you who are planning to shop earlier than usual you can prepare parts of your Christmas meal in advance. For example, parboiling potatoes and freezing them, saving the roasting for Christmas Day. Red cabbage, gravy and stuffing can be pre-made and frozen.

Meat can also be frozen, defrosted in advance and cooked as usual.

32% of respondents told us they had already bought their Christmas pudding or were planning to buy it earlier than usual.

Shopping ahead can also help spread the cost of Christmas if you're worried about costs. See more tips in our guide on 12 ways to save on Christmas food costs.

Beeswax wraps vs eco cling film vs recycled foil - what's the best for storing your opened food?

Many are feeling the pinch of rising prices

Sophie Beesley, Which? Analyst says: Despite extensive coverage of shortages, it's prices that are top of people's list of worries. 78% of those in our survey are worried about energy prices, followed by food and fuel prices, and then shortages.

There are signs too of increasing numbers of people struggling to make ends meet. The number defaulting on or missing payments has gone up for the second month in a row.

More than half of those we surveyed say they've already been hit by increased food prices and almost half by a hike in energy bills.

Economic confidence is dropping and worry about prices is high. What is even more concerning is that these issues are predicted to intensify in the coming months, as prices rise further and Christmas approaches, bringing extra pressure on supply chains and household budgets.

The cost of living has already surged at its fastest pace in almost 10 years, with inflation - the rate at which prices are rising- hitting 4.2% in the year to October.

The Bank of England chief economist has warned inflation could top 5% in early 2022, much higher than the 2% target set to help keep prices stable.

Have you seen price rises in the past two months?

We carried out a nationally representative sample of 2,129 UK adults online in October 2021 [Which? consumer insight]

People eating Christmas dinner

Price changes for shoppers this Christmas

Christmas items

Price change this Christmas

Cranberry sauce+0.9%
Christmas pudding+0.5%
Brussel sprouts-0.3%
Mince pies-1.1%
Pigs in blankets-2.8%

There are several factors that could cause food prices to rise. These include inflation, a shortage of workers which has meant companies have had to increase their wages to attract staff, the rising cost of shipping and increased costs of importing and exporting as a result of Brexit.

Andrew says the cost of Christmas dinner won't increase too much as 'retailers will try to absorb price rises as much as possible'.

But this is unsustainable in the long-term and eventually they will need to pass some of these rises on to shoppers.

Which supermarket sells the cheapest Christmas dinner food?

*2,000 UK adults surveyed 19-22 October 2021. Results weighted to be nationally representative

**Low-income households are those on less than £21,000, medium £21,000-£56,000 and high over £56,000