Christmas Shortages: How Supply Issues Might Shorten Your Shopping List

From turkeys to toys, the driver shortage could bring new Christmas disruption.

Last Christmas, we were met with Covid restrictions announced just five days before December 25. This year, Boris Johnson hasn’t ruled out more disruption, but has said he doesn’t expect it to be anything like 2020.

Which should mean we can plan Christmas with our loved ones as usual, right?

Yes, but also, no. While another lockdown isn’t on the cards just yet, Christmas might still look a little different.

The UK could see a possible national shortage of some seasonal staples, with turkeys, Christmas trees and toys all being in limited stock. The warnings come as fuel concerns continue to hit the UK, with panic buying and a shortage of HGV drivers causing long queues (and some closures) at petrol stations.

The UK’s biggest container port Felixtowe has now hit maximum capacity and had to turn away ships delivering toys and electrical goods.

One shipping boss warned The Times: “I don’t want to sound like a Grinch but there are going to be gaps on shelves this Christmas.”

Conservative party co-chair Oliver Dowden insists the situation is improving. “I quite understand why people are concerned by these headlines but we are working through these challenges as we have worked through other challenges,” he told Sky News.

So, what’s going on with Christmas? And what items might be impacted?

Carlina Teteris via Getty Images


It might be time to rethink your traditional roast turkey, because Kate Martin of the Traditional Farm Fresh Turkey Association (TFTA) believes there will be a shortage this Christmas.

The shortage of turkey is due to a lack of labour following Brexit, she said. Though small, British farms that use local workers have been impacted less, supermarket shelves are likely to be affected by a shortage of skilled European employees.

The TFTA represents producers of high-end, free-range turkeys and has said that some poultry farms had already had five times more orders this year than at the same time last year. “It is the supermarket shelves that will be emptier on turkeys this year than they have been before, because there have been less turkeys placed on the ground, because the big processors know that they will not get them processed,” Martin told PA Media News Agency.

When asked if supermarkets will run out of turkeys before Christmas, she said: “I think everyone needs to get their orders in very quickly. We have seen an absolutely unprecedented number of orders come in. Come Christmas, if you leave ordering your turkey from your local farm supplier, you are going to be out of luck.”

Christmas trees

Around one tenth of the real Christmas trees sold in the UK are imported, but post-Brexit regulations and a stretched labour market could result in shortages and higher demand for locally grown trees, retailers have said.

Mark Rofe, who owns, said: “We’ve spoken to our UK growers and they are all facing the same challenges.

“They are seeing an increase in demand for their product, especially from clients who would usually import their trees from Europe, but are keen to avoid any red tape that could increase costs or cause delays for what is of course a highly seasonal and time-sensitive business.”

With Christmas trees taking an average of 10 years to grow, it’s not a case of simply just cutting more trees, Wofe added, “especially when you don’t have the labour to harvest them, or the haulage to transport them across the country”.

Ben Wightman, from Christmas Tree World, said it might become difficult to fulfil the demand for real trees, which would lead to an increase in demand for artificial trees.

“We’re in a fortunate position, we had already invested in new warehousing space this year so we can stock up well ahead of the demand, but we do expect to see a lot of supply disruption generally for retailers and customers this Christmas,” he said.

The British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA) found that between eight and 10 million real Christmas trees are sold in the UK each year. It’s estimated that we usually import between one million and three million of those Christmas trees each year from countries elsewhere in Europe.

Christmas presents

Surely we can still manage to get some presents though? Partially true. You might find it difficult to find toys for your young ones this year.

Industry body the Toy Retailers’ Association (TRA) said though shelves aren’t likely to be empty, there will be less choice than previous years.

This is due to a combination of rising shipping costs and an ongoing shortage of HGV drivers. Barry Hughes, who is a managing director of Golden Bear Toys, based in Telford, described it as a “perform storm”.

The firm, which produces many of its lines in China, has been stockpiling toys since June to try and avoid a Christmas crisis, he said. “Undoubtedly we are going to see prices rising. It is not just going to be toys, it will be everything,” he added.

Hughes said in previous years the firm had been able to order more toys in October or November once it sees which lines are proving popular. “This year that’s not possible. [Deliveries] are late. There is some stock retailers hold in their warehouses, but that starts to run dry.”

Multiple toys sold across the UK are produced in China, the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia. Once toys reach the UK, they’re now met with a shortage of lorry drivers which has added to the costs.

Joel Berkowitz, director of the London Toy Company, said the firm has no choice but to pass on some of the costs to retailers, but does so “reluctantly”.

TRA’s Alan Simpson said he has six words for parents: “If you see it, buy it.”

He added: “If you think you are going to go into toy stores in December as you normally would do... and you are going to get what you want, you will be very disappointed. With all that being said, I think it’s time to start shopping.”

However, Oliver Dowden insists people should be able to shop normally this year. “I’m confident that people will be able to get their toys for Christmas,” he told Sky News, following the issues at Felixstowe that have led to ships delivering toys and electrical goods being turned away.

Asked if people should buy now to be on the safe side, Dowden replied: “I think it sensible to buy when you want. Some people buy very early for Christmas, my wife is quite an early Christmas buyer, others buy later.”

The problems at the port has been caused by a shortage of lorry drivers to move the containers, Covid restrictions at ports and a surge in imports.

“I would say just buy as you do normally.” Dowden added.

Will we be driving home for Christmas?

The HGV driver shortage is currently impacting the delivery of fuel in the UK – but the main issue is panic buying. Logistics UK has said the driver shortage is unlikely to end until spring next year, so unless we all calm down, the petrol chaos could continue as we head into December. It means driving home could become impossible for some – and public transport is likely to be a lot more busy.