8 Panic-Inducing Food 'Shortages' That You Shouldn't Worry About
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The New York Post has made a habit of simultaneously celebrating and mocking what seems to be an annual summertime shortage of rosé wine in the Hamptons. Last summer, as Labor Day neared, the Post reported the supply of rosé was running "dangerously low" in the posh playground of the rich. Recently, the Post breathlessly noted the likelihood of "another devastating rosé wine shortage" coming this fall, and perhaps as soon as this Labor Day weekend.
Suffice it to say that a shortage of rosé—recently described as "a symbol of all that is good about summertime" in a Vanity Fair story tracking the trendy wine's rising popularity—is "devastating" only in an extremely ironic "air quotes" sort of way. Such a matter isn't merely a first world problem, but a problem only for a niche corner of the first world's 1%.
That's if, in fact, there really have been shortages. When you look closely into the matter, the only "shortages" pertain to one or two specific brands of rosé (sometimes very small brands) rather than the wine category in general. And the shortage only seems to affect the Hamptons, not, say, Milwaukee or Cleveland. What's more, it's very convenient that the supply always seems to run low around Labor Day, the official end of the summer season in the Hamptons, after which demand for rosé falls off a cliff.
Many consumers think the word "shortage" means that an item will be impossible to buy, or be available in extremely limited quantities. In most cases, however, the shortage refers to a temporary decrease in supply, and the result isn't the complete disappearance of an item from stores but a rise in prices—generally a small, short-lived rise at that. In other words, it's not that big of a deal, and certainly not a reason to irrationally hoard groceries like shoppers do when the weather forecast calls for a blizzard.
In any event, rosé is hardly the only food and drink item that's been affected by a headline-grabbing "shortage" that's really not worth worrying about. Here are 7 more.
Almost like clockwork, reports about a shortage of chicken wings pop up in January and the early part of each year, when events like college football bowl games, the Super Bowl, and March Madness boost demand for the spicy snack beloved by sports fans.
The "shortages" are usually reported hand in hand with statistics supplied by the National Chicken Council (NCC), which last January estimated that 1.25 billion wings would be eaten during the Super Bowl and warned: "Wing prices traditionally go up in the fourth quarter of the year as restaurants and supermarkets stock up for the Super Bowl, and prices usually peak in January during the run-up to the big game."
The truth is that anyone who wants chicken wings for their Super Bowl party, or any other sporting event, has been able to find chicken wings readily available for purchase. What's more, according to previous statements by the National Chicken Council, the annual increase in demand doesn't really translate to a noticeable increase in prices paid by consumers. "Food service and retail outlets generally plan months in advance for the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl Sunday, meaning that increased wholesale costs for the most part aren’t passed on to consumers’ plates," an NCC economist explained a few years ago.
Perhaps only a shortage of oxygen would be considered worse than the scenario in which people might not be able to get their hands on chocolate when the "need" arises. So naturally, the 2014 report about a global shortage of chocolate coming in 2020 set some hearts aflutter.
The problem—or rather, the reason why it's unnecessary to panic and start hoarding chocolate—is that shortly after the report surfaced the International Cocoa Organization pronounced its projections "to be overstated in the extreme."
Data can be sliced and dissected in all sorts of different ways, and when we're talking about the future there are even more unknowns and variables than usual. The report about the forthcoming "shortage" seems to have embraced the assumption that the supply of cocoa (used to make chocolate) would mostly remain flat or decline in the years to come, even as global demand soars. The International Cocoa Organization noted that it's silly to make such an assumption: "Cocoa, like any other agricultural commodity, is a renewable resource, so, when the cocoa price goes up, farmers will be incentivized to produce more cocoa beans by increasing their use of inputs and investing in new plantations."
The takeaway is that, despite dire predictions that chocolate "will be like caviar" down the line in terms of pricing and availability, in all likelihood there will be ample supplies of Hershey's and Cadbury bars for decades to come, at prices you can afford.
The bird flu outbreak of 2015 led to the deaths of nearly 50 million chickens and turkeys in the U.S., and by far the hardest hit category was egg-producing chickens. The corresponding decrease in the supply of eggs has naturally resulted in higher prices for eggs at supermarkets and certain items at bakeries and restaurants that are heavy on eggs.
Still, with the exception of a very few, very short-lived instances of certain Midwest grocery chains periodically left without eggs to sell, the supply has largely not been interrupted. Almost all consumers have been able to find eggs available for sale, just at higher prices than they paid a few months beforehand. This is how supply and demand works.
Do you remember Thanksgiving 2013, when no one could get a turkey for the traditional feast? You probably don't remember this—because, despite headlines about a turkey shortage that November, there was more than enough turkey to go around.
After looking beneath the surface of the alarming headlines, the truth was that the "shortage" involved a very small corner of the market—only Butterball brand fresh turkeys weighing 16 pounds or more. Only 15% of American households buy fresh turkeys (most purchase them frozen at the supermarket), and some subset of that market might have been slightly upset that they couldn't get a large fresh Butterball bird that year. So they'd made do with a fresh turkey from another brand, or just a smaller Butterball. Big whoop.
Like eggs, turkeys are likely to be subjected to price increases this fall due to the bird flu, but even that may not affect your Thanksgiving dinner budget much. Come November, supermarkets generally use turkey as a "loss leader," offering them at sub-market prices in order to attract shoppers, who hopefully will be buying all the fixings while picking up a remarkably inexpensive bird. This is exactly what happened last year, when many headlines noted concern about price increases and even "shortages" of turkey.
Bacon is a hit among foodies and social media users alike, so word of a shortage will spread faster than a greased pig, if you'll excuse the expression—no matter if the news is true or not. Everyone had fun mock-freaking out about the "unavoidable bacon shortage" or "aporkalypse" meme of 2012. In reality, all that was happening at the time was that pork supplies were inching downward a bit, and bacon prices were creeping slightly upward a bit.
With much less hype, a different set of factors caused bacon prices to rise last summer. A few months later, hog farmers were ready with a revamped supply, and our national high price bacon nightmare was over.
Craft beer has made huge inroads in the booze industry, with production rising 40% last year and craft beer sales accounting for more than 10% market share for the first time ever. Considering that craft beers tend to be significantly hoppier than mass-market brews, there has naturally been an increased need for more hops. Hops consumption has reportedly risen 13.5% annually over the past few years.
The number of craft breweries increased 20% last year, and will rise at least that much again in 2015. Are there enough hops to go around?
In the grand scheme, yes, there should be enough, though the spike in demand is causing a sharp increase in price. Data cited by the Wall Street Journal indicates that the price of hops doubled in the decade ending in 2014, and that further price increases can be expected. And when costs increase for a business, they're typically passed along to the business's customers. As a result, "The consumer will pay a higher price for beer. That is without question," one industry expert said to CNBC last month.
Yet in the same way that rising cocoa prices will cause more farmers to grow cocoa, spiking hops prices are resulting in more farmers planting hops. After all, hops growers in the Northwest have gotten rich thanks to increased demand over the past decade or so, and farmers in other regions of the country are eager to try their hand doing the same.
The processed "cheesepocalyse," a.k.a. the Velveeta shortage of 2014, turned out to basically be cheesy hype. The supposed shortage was taking place in the weeks before the Super Bowl, which sounded like suspicious timing for a brand that plays up its role in cheese dips perfect for parties.
There was plenty of skepticism that it would be "possible consumers may not be able to find their favorite [Velveeta] product on store shelves over the next couple of weeks," as Velveeta put it at the time. As it turned out, there were no reports of consumers being stymied in their efforts to buy Velveeta, nor did a black market arise selling Velveeta at inflated prices.
More importantly, if there truly was a shortage of a product like this, it's probably not worthy of a full-on freak-out. If people couldn't buy Velveeta processed cheese, would that really be a bad thing?