Turkey and presents have been central to our view of Christmas for centuries. However, the shortages and supply chain issues that have plagued the pandemic may dramatically affect our ability to realise seasonal traditions this year. 

Earlier this week, British Poultry announced that the 7,000 vacancies in the poultry labour market had prevented producers from rearing sufficient animals to meet the Christmas demand. Many of these vacancies are filled usually by seasonal immigration from Eastern Europe. However, Brexit has prevented the positions from being filled by foreign workers.

Awareness of these labour shortages is not new. In August, the CEO of British Poultry wrote to the government to highlight that immigration restrictions were dramatically affecting the sector’s ability to meet demand. The government did not respond, however, until last week.

While the government announced that they would offer 5,500 emergency visas to support the industry, the CEO of Kelly Bronze turkeys asserted that the government measures were too little too late. He highlighted that, as turkeys can take up to 26 weeks to mature, it would be impossible to ratchet up production to meet the Christmas demand. Accordingly, representatives from the poultry industry have announced that they do not need the extra 5,500 emergency visas – the CEO of British Poultry stated the poultry industry would need just 2,500.

Many retailers will be looking to fill the shortages with products from the EU. However, competing with other international retailers and the cost of transport will force prices higher. Higher wholesale prices will likely affect profit margins during the quarter in which most businesses their money and could price smaller retailers out of the market.

Retailers with long term contracts for Christmas turkeys may seek legal action against farmers for delivering fewer turkeys than the number stipulated in the contract. While the pandemic may be considered a force majeure event, Brexit does not – contractual parties cannot seek to rely on the financial implications of our withdrawal from the EU to negate their legal obligations.

Similar labour shortages plague the pig industry, with abattoirs struggling to fill vacancies, so pigs in blankets may also be in short supply. Earlier this week, the National Pig Association suggested that 120,000 pigs face being culled, despite the government’s efforts to offer day release work to prisoners and ex-inmates to fill vacancies.

The shortfall in HGV drivers in the UK, combined with the backlog in global supply chains caused by COVID-19 may also affect the number and cost of the presents under the tree this year. Apple announced that they would be prioritising iPhone production over iPads, due to the ongoing microchip shortages and that those looking to purchase an iPad could see delays of up to a month.

Peter Wilson from Cory Brothers – a shipping agency – suggested that consumers buy their presents early to ensure they arrive in time for Christmas. This announcement comes in the context of the HGV driver shortage, which is slowing down processing times at UK ports. While seeking to address the issues, Maersk has advised that disruption could continue into 2022, revealing that shortages could be here to stay.

The supply chain issues have created opportunities for lawyers, as clients seek to incorporate novel insurance clauses into supply contracts and enforce them through litigation. Corporate lawyers are also facilitating vertical acquisitions as clients seek to maximise efficiency.

While Christmas as we know it is being threatened, planning will likely prevent the worst consequences of the shortages.

TLDR: It may be sensible to brace yourself for a nut roast.