Christmas food favourites and what they will cost you.

By Kerri Kapernick.

The produce in good supply and the food that could be hard to get may shape what Christmas dinner tables look like this year.

As a general rule, the better the supply the cheaper prices will be, with some exceptions.

Here is a guide to what is good value, and what you may only get just a taste of — if you are prepared to pay big dollars.

Ham — competitive market

Ham on the bone is one Christmas food favourite that will give consumers good value, despite the high demand, at this time of the year.

Pork Queensland president John Coward said retailers did their best to entice consumers in the lead-up to Christmas.

“Even at the busiest time of the year, consumers still get the benefit of competitive prices,” he said.

“It’s always a competitive market.”

He said we could expect to pay around $7 per kilogram for ham on the bone, with double-smoked ham from a specialty butcher up around $9/kg.

Mr. Coward said prices had not changed much over the past five years, but that did not necessarily put the squeeze on producers.

“It hasn’t degenerated into what we saw with the milk price war,” he said.

“Retailers negotiate ahead of time and they know they need to keep producers happy.”
Consumers who buy ham on the bone, as opposed to processed ham and bacon, can be sure they are buying Australian-grown produce.


Mr Coward said this was because of tighter laws surrounding the importation of bone products.

The good news is, if you have not already bought your Christmas ham on the bone, it is not too late.

“There are still ample supplies,” Mr Coward said.

Turkey — ’tis the season

‘Tis the season for turkeys, with one poultry farmer estimating up to 75 per cent of turkeys grown in Australia are sold into the Christmas market.

Australia’s turkey industry is worth about $200 million per year, and come the festive season, sales are at their highest.

But that figure is small fry compared to the United States where the industry is worth close to $5.71 billion a year.

John Watson from the Australasian Turkey Federation said the big bird is just not as popular year-round in Australia.

“The big majority of customers will only buy turkey once a year,” he said.

Mr Watson encouraged people to go to their friendly butcher for their Christmas turkey.

“Some of the larger chains tend to sell the products very cheap, they’re even prepared to make a loss, just to get customers through the door,” he said.

“But there’s nothing like that warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with visiting your friendly butcher for the real thing.”

He said a fair price for farmers and the consumer was about $15 per kilogram for a 5kg free range bird, ready for the oven.


Prawns — extreme shortage

Despite Australians expected to eat 50,000 tonnes of prawns this festive season, there is an “extreme shortage of product this year” according to Queensland Seafood Marketers’ Association president Marshall Betzel.

“If there’s a drought on the land, there’s a drought in the sea,” he said.

He said up to 80 per cent of our seafood was imported, because of demand.

“Asia has had its own share of problems with disease and seasons and that has tightened the market,” Mr Betzel said.

He said most reputable retailers would have country of origin well-marked, and prices would vary “just like buying a car”.

“Big Mooloolaba kings could cost up to $50 a kilo, and smaller prawns could be $20, so the average price is about $35 to $40 a kilo for prawns,” he said.

He said even though there was a shortage, retailers had to be considerate and keep profit margins tighter.

Mr Betzel said prawns were the obvious choice for a laidback Christmas lunch.

“It’s a cultural thing. Prawns are more appropriate and more practical for a 32 degree Celsius day,” he said.

“We’ve moved away from the traditional Christmas fare where our grandparents slaved over a hot English-style roast for good reason.”

Oysters — no problem

Despite the national supply of oysters tipped to be cut by about 70 per cent next year because of the Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS) this year, supply should not be a problem.


Wayne Hutchinson from Oysters Australia said the supply, condition, and quality of Sydney rock oysters was good.

“Look for oysters that have most of the shell filled out with the meat, which has a white, creamy appearance,” he said.

“You can buy them open, in a half a shell, in a tray — or better still open them yourself.

“Prices will range from $14 up to $20 per dozen.”

James Calvert from major supplier Tas Prime Oysters said his farm expected a drop of 90 per cent production after losing the bulk of their juvenile oysters.

“We are like most farms that have been impacted by POMS; we’ve got a little bit of stock left from the survivors,” he said.

“After that, we’ve got nothing left until the new season stock comes through, which we are expecting some time in 2018.”

Mr Hutchinson said this was all the more reason to support Tasmanian oyster farmers.

“If you see oysters from Tasmania, especially from St Marys, buy them as those farmers will be looking to harvest and sell at this time of the year,” he said.

Mangoes — shop around

Lovers of Bowen mangoes (aka Kensington Pride) may find it hard to come across their favourite fruit this year, although other varieties are “making up the slack” said Australian Mango Industry Association CEO Robert Gray.

“KPs are potentially down 20 to 30 per cent in some regions, and 60 to 70 per cent in some isolated pockets,” he said.


“People who want to buy KPs may need to pay a fraction more this time around.”

Consumers across the country are paying an average of $2.50 to $3 each, although better deals can be found if consumers are prepared to shop around, including at roadside stalls.

Mr Gray said he did not expect the prices to change too much in the lead-up to Christmas, if demand and quality remained strong, which was good news for shoppers and farmers.

“It’s in that sweet spot where there’s good profitability for production and it’s good value for consumers,” he said.

Cherries — dig deep

Christmas would not be the same without stone fruit, but you may have to dig deep if you want cherries on the table this Christmas.

Cherry Growers Association president Tom Eastlake said they would be “the most expensive ever grown in history” because of unseasonably cold weather.

Yields in the eastern states are down by 60 per cent on last year, which has driven prices up.

But the quality will be good — if you can afford it.

“It’s the best it’s ever been,” Mr Eastlake said.

In Western Australia, cherries will cost about $20 a kilo, although farmers are keeping an eye on the weather with unseasonal, heavy rain forecast, which will not be good for the season.

Lychees and rambutans — top dollar

You will have to pay top dollar for a taste of lychees this Christmas, with the season delayed by up to three weeks because of a warm winter in north Queensland.


Jill Houser from the Australian Lychee Growers Association said prices of $25 a kilo are expected to remain high at least until the end of January because of supply and demand.

“The warmer than usual winter, especially around Atherton Tablelands, threw their flowering and fruit setting out of whack,” she said.

“The more preferred variety, Kwai Mai pinks, may come down a bit as the season progresses.

“Chinese New Year influences prices, so prices will stay up until then.”

Meanwhile, consumers can expect to see plenty of rambutans in the shops in the lead-up to Christmas.

But with the backpacker tax uncertainty, NT grower Kerry Eupene said getting the fruit off trees and into boxes remained a challenge.

“We’ve noticed the lack of labour enquiries,” he said.

“Labour is an ongoing issue we have because it’s such a labour-intensive procedure getting rambutans from the trees and into the boxes.”

Mr Eupene said while demand for the hairy-looking fruit remained strong, the price he received was not reflective of the growing popularity of the fruit.

“Market prices haven’t moved much in the past three or four years, yet our costs have gone up,” he said.

Dried fruit — no price climb

Christmas time often sees the demand for dried fruits such as sultanas and sun muscats rise as people make traditional Christmas cakes and puddings.


But an increase in purchased product often has no impact on the prices farmers receive for their dried fruit.

Dried fruit producer Elina Garreffa said because harvest was only once a year, the price was dictated by processors at that time for bulk product.

Ms Garreffa said even though she directly sold her fruit to customers at farmers’ markets, the price did not climb for Christmas.

“Dried fruit is interesting; different to table grapes where that will fluctuate with the market price, dried fruit remains the same price all year round,” she said.

“So it doesn’t matter whether you’re buying it two days before Christmas, the prices stay the same.

“You can buy it in store and you don’t have to rush around the week before Christmas trying to find the right fruit.”

Nuts — bumper crops

There will be plenty of macadamias and almonds around this year, with both producing bumper crops.

For two years in a row, macadamia growers have made the most of good weather conditions and a long harvest to produce record crops.

But have you ever wondered where macadamias come from?

Bundaberg became the single biggest region contributing 40 per cent of the national crop, eclipsing the northern rivers of New South Wales for the first time this year.


Pistachios are now considered a year-round staple, and with 2016 producing a bumper ‘off-season’ crop there will be plenty around for nibbling and using in turkey stuffing.

Grower and producer Chris Joyce from Kyalite in New South Wales said the quality of this year’s harvest was exceptional.

“Pistachios are an alternate-bearing crop; they have a very big crop and then they have a smaller crop, and this year should have been one of the lower-producing crops,” he said.

“This is without question the best off crop we have ever seen. The quality of this year’s crop is absolutely extraordinary.”

The majority of the nation’s pistachio crop is grown along the Murray River in southern New South Wales, north-western Victoria, and South Australia and the industry is still growing.

“Currently, Australia is only growing about half of what we consume,” Mr Joyce said.

“So we think that very simply we could double production and continue to satisfy the Australian market.”

If all else fails, there is always the gingerbread house. Unless a sugar tax has other ideas, but let’s worry about that next year.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and may your table be full.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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