Around the world, countries and their populations are facing shortages of everything from maple syrup and cream cheese to champagne and Christmas trees. While disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change are mostly to blame, there are many other factors that need to be looked at—along with how they impact scarcity. Here are five things that are in shortage right now, and why.
As COVID-19 gripped the world, maple syrup saw a significant rise in demand. According to the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (QMSP) association, global sales of the pancake staple shot up by almost 37 per cent in the last year. As demand increased, unfortunately, Quebec’s annual harvest—which is responsible for 72 per cent of the world’s supply—decreased, resulting in the current shortage we’re experiencing.
Production of maple syrup in 2021 dropped by about 42 million pounds from last year’s record high of 175 million pounds, according to the QMSP. “There were 100 million pounds in the reserve last spring. We estimate that by the time the next season begins in early 2022, about less than half of the stockpile will still be there,” QMSP spokesperson Helene Normandin told Fortune.
‘Why was this year’s harvest so bad then?’ I hear you ask. Well, 2021’s Spring season was warmer than normal. For the trees to provide syrup, the weather needs to be just above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. “In 2021, an early thaw caused the sap to start flowing at the same time across the province, and unusually warm temperatures in April brought the harvest season to an abrupt halt. Maple producers are at the mercy of Mother Nature,” the QMSP said in a statement in December.
At the very beginning of December 2021, The New York Times reported that the city’s top bagel destinations are struggling to find cream cheese, an absolutely crucial ingredient to NYC bagels, amid ongoing pandemic-caused national supply chain shortages.
Supply chain issues have plagued the US for months now, causing scarcities of everything from cars and running shoes to, well, cream cheese! “In Alaska, residents are struggling to acquire winter coats,” The New York Times noted.
Now, New York City’s bagel purveyors have been left scrambling to find and hoard as much cream cheese as they can. Shops across the city typically go through thousands of pounds of cream cheese every couple of weeks, according to the publication. But the shortage is upending that cadence: Zabar’s only has enough cream cheese to last the next ten days, according to the Manhattan institution’s general manager. Tompkins Square Bagels’ owner Christopher Pugliese told The New York Times that an 800-pound cream cheese order the shop was expecting for the first week of December never arrived, forcing them to survive the weekend with a case of individually wrapped, three-pound cream cheese sticks.
Such owners don’t expect the shortage to dissipate anytime soon either. They say it’s too soon to tell whether order limits or price hikes may be put into place to survive the crisis.
Due to the same supply chain issues mentioned above, the price of tenders along with many other types of meat like bacon have gone up. According to Today, the price of chicken fingers has risen nearly a dollar a pound. The news website also wrote that because tenders require more processing and more packaging than chicken nuggets, for example, they’re not only going to be more expensive but harder to find. Fast food chain KFC has even stopped promoting chicken tenders to avoid a total shortage at its restaurants. Boom, finger lickin’ gone.
With meat prices skyrocketing in grocery stores, the Biden administration cited illegal price-fixing by the meat-processing industry. “USDA is conducting an ongoing joint investigation with the Department of Justice into price-fixing in the chicken-processing industry,” the White House said in a statement released in September 2021.
On the other hand, meat manufacturers cited extreme weather, labour shortages and high demand. “Multiple, unprecedented market shocks, including a global pandemic and severe weather conditions, led to an unexpected and drastic drop in meat processors’ abilities to operate at full capacity,” Tyson Foods said in a September news release. “Labour shortages are also affecting the nation’s pork and poultry supply.” It seems like the new, 3D-printed fake meat with cocoa butter may just be the future of chicken nuggets.
Looking into why exactly Australia is currently undergoing a champagne shortage, The Guardian wrote, “We’re in the thick of a champagne shortage and while there’s a lot of discussion around why this is the case, industry experts say there are several factors at play.”
Kyla Kirkpatrick, CEO of Emperor Champagne, told the publication that mass domestic consumption and supply issues are to blame. “You’ve got slow production from two years of COVID-19 affecting the workforce in France, and that has impacted everything from printing labels to producing corks,” Kirkpatrick explained. “And people haven’t been travelling or going to restaurants. They’ve been purchasing consumer goods rather than having experiences.”
And even if you do manage to ship off a container to Australia, which has gone from an average of $4,000 for a 20 feet container to $11,000 in a 12-month period, you won’t even be able to get your champagne off the water, Kirkpatrick continued, explaining to The Guardian that boats simply can’t dock anywhere.
As if that wasn’t enough, weather also seems to be taken into consideration here, with boutique champagne importer Ryan Larkin, of Larkin Imports, saying that volatile weather patterns have affected producers, with 2021 especially problematic for champagne. You know what they say, no champagne, no gain…
Shock, horror! What even is a Christmas dinner for if not for pigs in blankets? As first reported by POLITICO in September 2021, British consumers could be left without the Christmas staple this year because of, you guessed it, labour shortages.
At the time, the UK government agreed to issue temporary visas for up to 5,500 poultry workers and 5,000 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers in order to supply the country with turkey dinners and deliveries ahead of the festive season. But no equivalent scheme has been set up to guarantee supplies of other meat products in high demand at Christmas—this includes our beloved pigs in blankets.
David Lindars, technical operations director of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), told POLITICO that the average meat-processing company is operating with a shortage of staff at around 15 per cent, and in some parts of the UK, firms are reporting a 25 per cent shortage. “Normally meat companies begin producing Christmas items in June, but have not been able to do so this year,” the publication continued.
As our social calendars fill up with work parties, ‘friendsmas’ roasts and gorging ourselves on the sofa, it may seem that leftover food and creating debris is unavoidable. There are always hundreds of roasties, litres of gravy, bowls of sprouts left untouched. The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) states that between 30 and 50 per cent of all food produced globally goes straight into landfill, and in the midst of the climate crisis it’s vital we take responsibility for, and make fundamental changes to our consumption habits.
Read on for ten absolute crackers to suit a plethora of scenarios:
1. Take a lunch box everywhere
A solid opener, no-shame scavenging; stick your leftover roast potatoes in there, your mum’s half-eaten dessert, the rest of the cheeseboard no-one needed. It’s an imperative bit of kit, and if someone looks at it disapprovingly, it’s only because they’re jealous they didn’t think of it.
2. Classic leftover meals
So, you’ve now got a huge box of surplus meat and vegetables, then what? Forgotten over the last two generations, thrifty post-war meals using leftovers were national staples before the global food market made us all lazy and nutrient-deficient. Here are a few delicious options you could cook up after a big Christmas do.
– Toad in the Hole (Yorkshire batter and sausages traybake)
– Bubble & Squeak patties (mashed veg and spuds in fried cakes)
– Cheese & braised red cabbage toastie (with cranberry sauce)
– Turkey pasta bake with creamy mushrooms and thyme
– Broccoli and stilton soup (add a little gravy to the stock)
3. Love thy neighbour
If you live next to or near someone who you think might not be able to cook for themself, be a darling and take them over a hot meal. It’s no effort to plate up something from your leftovers and microwave it for them. If you’re feeling extra cute, leave a few After Eights and a cuppa tea.
4. Sprouts are boss
Being a former avoider, I’m now very much a brussel lout. These incredible flavour orbs are related to cabbage, aid enzymatic digestion and boost blood circulation. It’s best to peel bad leaves off all the uncooked sprouts you have left in one go, as it’s really boring. Try shredding in a sprout, apple, fennel bulb and caraway seed slaw with a honey and mustard dressing, or stirfry with onions, mushrooms and cream for a toast topping.
5. Pudding for breakfast
This one is for the heads. We all know cold spuds is a legitimate morning snack, but what about a slab of gateaux with your first coffee? Victoria sponge and builders’ tea? Christmas pudding with a herbal brew or lemon cheesecake and OJ? After a hefty sugar punch to complement the caffeine, prepare for a pre-lunch crash.
6. Wonderful wild herbs
Wonderful for so many reasons, including the fact that they’re very hardy so they grow absolutely everywhere, are easy to identify, and can help you spend no money and reduce your plastic consumption. Learn to harness their incredible flavours, because they lift everything—add chopped rosemary to roasting potatoes or a sprig of thyme in your G&T, steep mint and fennel in a pot after dinner for a digestive tea. Forage responsibly; don’t pick unless you’re certain, and never strip or uproot a plant.
7. Pickle it
Vegetable skins are delicious, packed with fibre and, if grown organically, host beneficial bacteria and minerals from the soil. If you can’t convince the chef to keep the skins on your carrots, don’t despair. Stealthily make this sour side dish; pickle with 150ml vinegar, 150ml water, 2 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp salt, star anise, chopped garlic and a bay leaf. Heat on the hob until sugar melts, then add to skins in a bowl. They only need an hour to marinate, then whip them out at the dinner table and blow their tiny minds.
8. Surplus citrus
There will undoubtedly be tonnes of clementines in your vicinity, so nab some, slice thinly on the horizontal and dry on a radiator to create some beaut, fragrant decorations. String them together like a boss.
What about all the half-drunk bottles of wine and warm lager dregs littering the kitchen? Don’t throw down the sink, it’s a precious resource—naturally fermented liquids with deep umami and sour flavours. Stick them all in a labelled bottle in the fridge to store and use them to build a tasty base for a gravy or a stock. If you’re feeling experimental, add a raw vinegar mother and store for 6 weeks to turn this waste product into a delicious cupboard essential.
10. Local resource redistribution
There’s no need to eat every chocolate that enters your periphery; take those spare sweets to your local hostel or homeless shelter. And if you have any cooking or washing-up skills at all, you could be in-demand. Ring ahead to see if they’re serving hot meals over the holiday period, and whether they might benefit from your time and expertise.