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.