With Christmas less than a month away, many retailers are not only facing the impact of the pandemic and a global supply chain crisis, but are also experiencing the full impact of Brexit for the first time. festive requests.
Here, we chat with the people behind four key elements of the holiday season to see if we’ll notice the impact in our homes and at our tables this year.
It is estimated that six to eight million Christmas trees are sold each year in the UK, each to be felled, taken from the field, packaged and handed over to the customer.
Usually, producers rely on the help of a seasonal workforce to do the job, many of whom come from outside the UK. But this year, following Brexit, producers had to find local workers to step in who may not be as skilled and, as a result, took longer to get the job done. It is feared that this, added to the transport problems linked to Brexit, could lead to a shortage of trees.
Christopher Hood, director and founder of Swindon-based Needlefresh, the UK’s largest supplier of trees to premier retailers such as Waitrose and Tesco, said that over 30 years of working in company, this season has been one of his toughest and the first time he’s really felt the Brexit effect.
“This is the first year that we have had real challenges with labor and transportation. We have felt it a lot more this year than last year. It usually hires 80 to 90 people each year, many of whom are usually from Eastern Europe. But this year he had to find and train local workers.
Another factor causing the problems is transport, caused by a shortage of truck drivers and the fact that most of the UK’s trees are grown in Scotland.
Hood, whose company uses 700 trucks a year to move trees across the country, said: “We have to work a lot harder to get results and we have to ask customers to be a lot more flexible about when. they take delivery of the trees.
Although he thinks he will fulfill all of his tree orders, he has heard that some growers are “extremely late”. He said it’s too early to say if there will be any shortages, but that will become evident in the next two weeks. “It won’t be a question of product availability, it will be the ability to bring that product to market.”
The British Christmas Tree Growers Association has reported an increase in early inquiries from retailers, but urged shoppers not to panic.
Amid Brexit border control issues, shortages of truck drivers and other staff, combined with pandemic business closures and global shipping disruptions, industry executives have put on guard against a “cocktail of chaos” which they believe could lead to alcohol shortages this Christmas.
In a letter last week to Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps, a group of 48 wine and spirits companies said rising costs and supply chain chaos have resulted in delays in deliveries of wines and spirits. spirits, which could lead to empty beverage aisles in supermarkets.
Miles Beale, managing director of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, which coordinated the letter, said the confluence of factors has led to “problems in the supply chain leaving our wines and spirits members with major problems. to get supermarkets, unlicensed, pubs and restaurants delivered. He called on the government to take “emergency measures to prevent UK businesses from suffering huge losses.”
Pierre Mansour, wine director of the Stevenage-based Wine Society, said that despite Brexit planning since the middle of last year, he has made the transfer of stock from vineyards from Europe to the UK ” the most logistically and operationally difficult Christmas we have ever experienced. had to date ”.
In the last 12 weeks of 2019, not counting sales of bars, pubs and restaurants, more than 403 million bottles of wine and spirits were sold in the UK, according to data from Nielsen, for a total value of 3 , £ 4 billion. Will there be enough to shop around this year?
With delivery times doubled, Mansour advised people to order early, especially if they want a specific brand. He has previously said demand was higher than at the same time last year, which was a banner year for the cooperative wine merchant, with many customers ordering magnums for, if Covid allows, large meetings of family.
TOYS AND GIFTS
After months of talks about fears of empty shelves in toy stores due to the global shipping crisis, industry executives say there will be toys on the shelves after all, but what if you are looking for something specific, it is better to buy it sooner rather than later.
Brexit has resulted in labor shortages in warehouses and in particular for heavy truck drivers, leading to shortages throughout the supply chain.
Roland Earl, Managing Director of the British Toy & Hobby Association, said: “There will be toys in the stores, but there might not be as many choices as there might be in a normal year. . ” For those looking for a specific gift, he advised people to buy it when they see it rather than wait because once it runs out, “replenishment is difficult.”
This holiday season has been, he said, a “bit of a nightmare” for the industry with “several things all happening at the same time.”
While fears about the availability of turkey appear to have subsided for now, after the government introduced a temporary visa program for seasonal poultry workers, the supply of other Christmas staples such as pigs in blankets is still uncertain.
Earlier this month, the National Pig Association said thousands of pigs had been slaughtered on UK farms, with thousands more likely to follow, due to a shortage of skilled labor in the Kingdom. United after Brexit and warned of a “catastrophic collapse” in the price. pork.
The government has introduced an emergency visa program for 800 butchers coming from outside the UK as Christmas approaches, but they are not expected to start work until January.
Sophie Hope, a pig farmer at Alexander and Angell Farms in Gloucestershire, said a shortage of skilled workers at processing plants who usually come from the EU has resulted in a backlog of pigs. This has led some farmers to slaughter the pigs on the spot, which means they cannot be sold. Others end up with pigs that are too big and lose half of their value. Hope believes there will be shortages of British pork over Christmas. “There is no shortage of pigs on the ground, but they cannot be slaughtered and processed,” she said. She fears that shops will instead import pork to fill the gaps on the shelves, which she says “is obviously not helping us UK farmers at all”.
Meanwhile, shoppers appear to be receiving their Christmas food orders earlier. Marks & Spencer said it closed its Christmas meal ordering service at the start of the year because all slots were filled faster than normal – despite the larger number of slots: “There were no supply problem, but buyers certainly shopped early. ”
A government spokesperson said the food supply chain was “very resilient” and had “withstood unprecedented challenges well”.