Press Release

How your Christmas dinner has travelled three times around the world

3 December 2018

Press release

Whilst Christmas dinners are a common sight on the big day, the origins of the ingredients are more exotic than you might expect, according to research...

Research from Nautilus International, the trade union representing around 22,000 maritime professionals in the UK, NL and CH, has found ingredients in their traditional Christmas dinners have travelled up to 90,149 miles before reaching our supermarket shelves, more than three and a half times the circumference of the world! 

The UK relies on the maritime industry for 95% of everything we import all year round, not just at Christmas, with the sector supporting £40 billion in business turnover and 185,700 jobs[i]. Despite our reliance on the industry, the union is warning we run the risk of losing the UK’s reputation as a global maritime leader. Since 1975 the number of seafarers active in the UK has fallen by 75 per cent, and the UK register lies down in 20th for global ship registrations. 

Despite this, our reliance on seafarers becomes increasingly apparent at Christmas as they ship us ingredients such as nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves as well as the other 'traditional' ingredients which make up our Christmas fare. 

In the run up to the big day, Nautilus International has looked at a dozen of the feast’s most popular produce and where we import the goods from. Covering main courses, nibbles, puddings, drinks and decorations we consume over the festivities, the findings show just how far everything we need has travelled to reach us in time for the big day: 

  • roast chestnuts maybe not round the open fire these days but still a favourite, the UK’s biggest supplier of chestnuts is Italy, which exports some 50,000 tonnes per-year – the nuts travel up to 1,100 miles to bring us Bing Crosby’s favourites.
  • cranberry sauce perfect with roast turkey, cranberries originate from America, with Wisconsin topping the chart for states exporting the most [ii] - 3,901 miles to your plate.
  • pigs in blankets – the Danes are the UK’s biggest supplier of pork, seeing the tasty morsels traveling up to 746 miles [iii] to reach us.
  • Christmas pudding – with spices from Sri Lanka, raisins from California and mixed fruit from Turkey, this Xmas staple travels a combined 12,926 miles.
  • bread sauce flour from Canada and nutmeg from Indonesia sees this simple dish travel up to 10,837 miles.
  • turkey – turkey has replaced goose as the UK’s favourite centrepiece at Christmas and the majority of the UK’s imported turkeys come from Poland, Italy and the Netherlands, covering up to 1,015 miles [iv].
  • prawns for your classic Christmas prawn ring you’ll need to get prawns from Honduras, they’ve travelled up to 5,342 miles.
  • mulled wine – with ginger from India, cinnamon from Sri Lanka, orange peel from Spain, allspice from Mexico and cloves from Indonesia, this traditional tipple remains one of the most exotic on our tables, travelling up to 31,176 miles.
  • almonds – coming from America, the state producing the most almonds is California, traveling up to 7,525 miles to get here.
  • Christmas cracker – with rubbish jokes and even worse gifts, who doesn’t love a cracker? Most of the UK’s come from China, travelling up to 10,531 miles to get here.  
  • bucks fizz – with oranges from Spain and Champagne from France, this festive tipple can travel up to 1,050 miles to get here.
  • rum – a warming staple over the period, our spiced rum travels up to 4,000 miles to reach us from Puerto Rico. 

Total miles covered – 90,149! 

Nautilus International General Secretary, Mark Dickinson, comments: 'As an island nation, we rely on shipping and seafarers to bring us our essential goods, making up 95% of imports and 75% of exports. Whilst we consider the traditional Christmas dinner as a quintessentially British invention, it is in fact far more exotic, and reliant on seafarers, than anticipated. With prawns from Honduras or spices from Sri Lanka, it’s highly likely our dinners will rely on seafarers to bring the feasts to our plates this festive season. 

'However, many of the maritime professionals who have helped put food on tables and presents under trees across the country this Christmas will be serving at sea without the opportunity to enjoy the day at home with their loved ones.' 

Seafarer numbers nationally have fallen from more than 66,000 in the 1970s to just over 23,000 today, with Nautilus campaigning to protect British seafarers with its 10-point Charter for Jobs by encouraging the UK government to deliver decent training and working conditions for those working at sea. 

Mr Dickinson continues: 'Many people are unaware that our Christmas traditions are intrinsically linked with our history of maritime dominance, made possible then and now by the commitment and hard work of those in the seafaring industry. The vast majority of goods arriving into UK shops, restaurants and homes will have travelled by sea, often from afar, by seafarers battling stormy seas.  

'We hope the wider public will consider the distance travelled by goods, not just at Christmas, but all year round, and the pivotal role seafarers play in maintaining our status as a dominant maritime nation. Whilst we open our presents and tuck into our turkey, I hope we can spare a thought for those who have helped make it all possible.' 

  • to show its appreciation of maritime professionals over the festive period, Nautilus has produced a special Christmas animation.


Notes to Editors 

Nautilus International is the trade union and professional organisation for maritime professionals at sea and ashore. We represent 22,000 maritime professionals including ship masters (captains), officers, officer trainees (cadets) and shipping industry personnel, such as ship pilots, inland navigation workers, vessel traffic services operators (similar to air traffic control), harbourmasters, seafarers in the oil and gas industry, and shore-based staff.



Press Contacts

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Dan Stead Press contact 0845 4567251
Ben Rowe Press contact 08454567251

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