Floods, labour shortages and Brexit stockpiling have all made an impact on festive favourites this year. In this price breakdown, we look at how a turbulent 2019 has affected each element of Christmas dinner
It’s been a tough year for food and drink. From flooded fields and labour shortages to African swine fever and Brexit stockpiling, supply chain challenges have come thick and fast.
Festive favourites have been among the foods worst hit. Over the past 12 months, The Grocer has reported on slumps in turkey egg production, a British carrot crisis, surging sparkling wine prices and a potential pigs in blankets shortage.
Indeed, earlier this month, Mintec’s Christmas Dinner Index found the wholesale cost of ingredients necessary to make a main Christmas meal was up 3% on last year.
It comes as consumer confidence is falling, with concerns over rising food prices and ongoing political uncertainty prompting shoppers to hold back on festive spending, Kantar warned this week.
So as Christmas nears, what is the latest supply situation for festive food and drink staples? And has cost inflation translated to higher prices at the checkout?
Farmers warned of tighter Christmas turkey supplies during the summer, after soaring temperatures in France severely hit egg production.
The UK turkey sector sources about 25% of its eggs from French breeders, which are then transported to UK hatcheries.
The sector has also faced a lack of labour, with many smaller farms struggling to attract enough staff.
These challenges meant wholesale prices paid by some independent butchers and foodservice operators were as much as 20% higher than last year, The Grocer reported last week.
However, BPC CEO Richard Griffiths stressed most of the mults agreed long-term contracts at the start of the year, so supermarket shoppers should still be able to find a good deal.
A medium own-label frozen turkey crown in the mults (2kg-2.5kg) costs £15.20 on average, up 0.7% year on year [Edge by Ascential 52 w/e 10 December].
Global pork supplies are under pressure from China’s ASF crisis. The UK has more than doubled its monthly exports to China since it first announced an outbreak in August 2018. As a result, Chinese pig prices rose to more than £5.50/kg in October.
Brexit stockpiles built up ahead of March meant UK prices have lagged behind, but they are on the rise. AHDB’s standard pig price was at £1.57/kg on 7 December, up by 4.7% since 7 September.
With prices and demand so high in China, the SPP should climb further in the new year, suggests British Meat Processors Association CEO Nick Allen. “However, prices for gammon in the supermarkets will have been struck several months ago,” he stresses.
An own-label unsmoked gammon joint in the mults (1kg-1.4kg) costs an average of £5.90. That’s 2.8% pricier than last year.
Pigs in blankets
The BMPA’s Allen warned in October that migrant labour shortfalls of up to 30% meant pork processors faced a struggle to meet demand for the labour-intensive Christmas favourites. Plants were “already approaching the point where they’re 10% to 15% down” in terms of worker numbers, he warned.
However, he told The Grocer this week that plants have been “working flat out” to ensure supplies are sufficient.
A 200g-300g pack of pigs in blankets costs an average of £3.53 this Christmas, up 1p or 0.3% on last year.
After a few difficult years, global salmon supplies have recovered in 2019, with exports from major producer Norway up 7% year on year, according to the Norwegian Seafood Council.
This means lower prices in the mults, where salmon had one of the largest price drops of any fish species during the past year, down an average of 29p/kg [Kantar 52 w/e 11 August].
A 100g-120g pack of own-label smoked salmon is on average 3% cheaper this year in the mults at £4.52.
Having suffered a blow from the heatwave last summer, potato harvests have been hit by what AHDB has described as the wettest year since 2012. By mid-November, the levy board estimated 11% of this year’s crop was still in the ground with 2%-3% “unlikely to be lifted”. However, the mults have so far kept a lid on inflation, with fresh potato prices down 5% on average year on year [Edge by Ascential 52 w/e 12 December 2019].
A 2.5kg bag of own-label maris piper potatoes (2.5kg) is selling at an average of £2 in the mults - the same as last year.
The soggy autumn also hit brussels sprouts and carrots. British Growers Association CEO Jack Ward described the season as having been “very, very trying”.
An indication of the difficulties faced by sprouts growers came from Waitrose, which said last week it would relax its size and shape guidelines.
Farmers warn British carrots could be in short supply next year, but Rodger Hobson, chair of the British Carrot Growers’ Association said price rises are unlikely. “If the British supply isn’t there, they’ll just need to come in from abroad,” he says.
A 500g bag of own-label sprouts in the mults costs an average of £1.19, down 2.5% from last Christmas. A 500g pack of own-label chantenay carrots costs £1.04 on average - the same as last year.
This year’s cranberry crop from the US and Canada was “much the same as the year before” so prices have not been affected, says Charlie McGrath, GB head of sales at Ocean Spray.
The average price of an own-label jar of cranberry sauce (190g-310g) is the same as last year, at £1.00.
Gravy and stuffing
Earlier this month, The Grocer reported that gravies and stuffings were 3% more expensive than last year in the mults - despite a drop in the price of UK wheat.
However, a spokeswoman for Paxo and Bisto owner Premier Foods insisted shoppers will find a good deal this Christmas. “We are not experiencing any supply issues that are having an impact on pricing or in-store availability,” she said. “For Christmas 2019, we have strong promotion plans across the market to support our key seasonal lines.”
A 170g pack of Bisto gravy granules for turkey is on average 11.7% cheaper in the mults year on year, at 83p.
Global cocoa prices have risen due to a poor crop from Ghana. In November, prices on the London ICE exchange were 13.9% higher year on year at £1876.4/tonne, according to Mintec.
“Cocoa prices have been supported by the strong demand indications given by cocoa bean processors such as Olam and Gepex,” it adds. However, the mults are still offering good prices on some festive favourites.
A 290g box of Cadbury’s Roses is £2.65 on average - compared to £2.88 in 2018.
Cheddar prices have been “very stable” during the past 18 months, suggests AHDB lead analyst for dairy Patty Clayton. The levy board’s tracked mild cheddar price of £2,830/tonne in November is 1% down on year on year.
UK supplies were bolstered by imports from Ireland as suppliers stockpiled ahead of the original March Brexit deadline, with imports of Irish cheddar up 24% on 2018 levels.
A 320g block of Davidstow extra mature Crackler cheddar costs on average £3.67 this year, the same as last year. A 200g-250g block of own-label premium mature stilton is 0.8% cheaper than last year, at £2.59 on average.
Prosecco has had “no major supply issues” this year, says Adam Marshall, buying controller at Kingsland Drinks. Retailers are starting to add frizzante styles more popular in countries such as Germany, he adds.
Champagne prices have risen, though. The Wine & Spirit Trade Association’s CEO Miles Beale put this down to the government’s decision to raise wine duty in October - while freezing duty for beer and spirits.
A 750ml bottle of premium own-label prosecco is 4% cheaper this Christmas at an average of £7.83, while a 750ml bottle of Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Champagne is £2.50 pricer at £42.50.
The total price of the 14 products selected comes to a grand total of £94.46, which works out at 2.1% more expensive than the same products last Christmas
He also assists in production of The Grocer’s annual Dairymen supplement, while also writing about food commodities, sourcing, sustainability, politics and regulation; and has appeared as a commentator on both radio and TV on the state of the UK food industry.
Prior to joining The Grocer in 2014, Kevin wrote about retail financial services for a Financial Times business publication, and began his career as a journalist working for regional newspapers in Wales.
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