(Bloomberg) — A shortage of popular food items from popcorn to sriracha is hitting restaurants and grocery shelves this summer, a sign that the world’s immense supply chains are still under pressure.
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Over the past few months, many seemingly random foods have become wildly expensive or unusually hard to find. These include lettuce in Australia, onions and salami in Japan and even bottled beer in Germany, sending businesses scrambling to find alternatives to feed their customers.
The problem is usually not so much a lack of the product itself but more to do with a stretched global supply chain. It’s a whirlwind of factors, from adverse weather to the pandemic to geopolitical tensions and rebounding demand.
When manufacturers can’t make enough glass bottles and aluminum cans, it trickles down to people’s ability to buy things like soda and beer. A shipping container shortage and tight labor market add to supply chain challenges. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exacerbated those issues, cutting off supplies of grains and cooking oils, and causing food and energy prices to soar.
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One of the newest additions to the list of hard-to-find items is sriracha. The maker of the iconic sauce, Huy Fong Foods Inc., has been forced to suspend production due to a lack of chili peppers. Consumers are rushing to stock up, with some lamenting the “worst news of the year” and the “end of days.”
Beer drinkers in Germany are facing a shortage of bottles, partly because of the war in Ukraine, which supplies brewers with glass. Breweries in the booze-loving nation, which are already paying more for electricity and barley, are urging customers to return their empties, the New York Times reported.
A dearth of popcorn in the US has also become a source of worry for movie goers as millions make their way to cinemas for the summer blockbuster season. Not only are containers like lids, cups and paper bags in short supply, farmers may also be giving up corn to switch to more lucrative crops.
Even vegetables are harder to come by. A lettuce shortage in Australia prompted KFC to put cabbage in its burgers. The fast food giant cited supply chain disruptions after heavy flooding in some areas earlier this year. In the UK, McDonald’s had to ration tomatoes, using one slice instead of two. The tomato shortage is due to the high cost of heating greenhouses with gas.
A global potato shortage made headlines after McDonald’s had to halt sales of large-sized fries in several countries as supply-chain snarls slowed shipments. Singapore’s KFC restaurants replaced fries with waffle hash. In Kenya, when KFC ran out of fries due to shipping delays, social media users called for a boycott of the fast food chain for not using locally sourced potatoes.
In Japan, shortages ranged from onions to salami, which meant eateries had to pull certain dishes from their menus. Saizeriya, a chain of family-style Italian restaurants, suspended a grilled chicken entree because of a labor shortage in Thailand. It also discontinued a salami appetizer after Japan suspended pork and cured meat imports from Italy following an African swine fever outbreak.
Madhav Durbha, vice president of supply-chain strategy at Coupa Software Inc., said business leaders need to rethink how and where they produce and source from. Through new technologies and better planning, they can reduce potential delays, lost revenues and “constant fire fighting” to manage shortages.
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