10 Popular Foods You Can’t Buy Anymore Because of the Pandemic
Grocery shopping just hasn't been the same in 2020. Here are a few of the products that you may find harder to come by—now and for a long time.
Shopping in the age of COVID
Slowly but surely, toilet paper and hand sanitizer have reappeared on store shelves. But almost as stealthily, other common items seem to be growing more scarce. “The ebbs and flows of places opening and shutting back down is wreaking havoc on the supply chain and causing fits and starts in the manufacture of food,” says food safety and supply chain expert Brandon Hernandez, co-founder of Whole Brain Consulting.
Initially, the problem was what Hernandez calls “pantry loading,” aka panic buying—people unnecessarily stocking up on things like yeast, flour, and dried pasta. “We did a poor job of educating people on what lockdown meant,” he says. A lot of them thought they wouldn’t be able to leave their homes for 30 days or more and shopped accordingly. Luckily, the worst of that is over, but there are still other reasons you may not be able to find everything on your grocery list.
Supply and demand
So, what’s going on? “People are eating at home in record numbers right now,” says Hernandez. That means there are more people than ever grocery shopping, so the turnover on store shelves is faster. Because of that fact, most promotions designed to free up shelf space, like “buy one get one free” have been halted, which is one reason your grocery bill may seem higher than usual. The good news, however, is that the problem was never a supply issue. “Distribution is the main problem,” Hernandez explains. “We don’t see any data to suggest food shortages, now or in the future.” The bad news is that you might have trouble locating the following items on your next shopping trip—and if you do find them, they could be pricier than they used to be. This is just one of the ways coronavirus could change the way we eat.
By now, everyone’s heard about the COVID outbreak at the Smithfield pork plant. One of the major problems with meat, says Hernandez, is that the five largest producers of animal protein in the United States control around three-quarters of the market. So when one of those plants shuts down, there aren’t many other options for people looking for beef, pork, or chicken. Chickens, which have a faster life cycle than cows or pigs, will recover the fastest, he says, but you may see a rise in meat prices across the board, regardless. “Usually, the best cuts of meat go to restaurants,” Hernandez explains. “Most consumers won’t want to pay premiums for good cuts, so manufacturers may add those cuts to their ground meat and simply raise the price.” If you’re having trouble finding what you want, check out these 18 places to buy meat that aren’t supermarkets.
Oh, you’ll still be able to find wheels of brie—but at what cost? Cheese hit a record high price per pound last month, thanks to the reduced supply during shutdown combined with increased demand (lots of people ordering pizza for delivery). Expect price hikes to stick around for a while, especially for aged cheeses, which take longer to make.
Like other animal products, dairy was hard hit by coronavirus-related shutdowns. According to one survey, about 35 percent of food processing and dairy facilities have had at least one confirmed COVID-19 case. “The most likely outages will be on short-shelf-life products,” says Hernandez, referring to items like milk, butter, and eggs. “Not only do they have a short shelf life with respect to short-term viability at the store level, but you have a short shelf life at home, which means people will venture out for those items more often.” When you do head out, you might want to go to Whole Foods, which was recently ranked #1 for COVID-19 safety measures.
Sorry, portobello lovers. In May, the American Mushroom Council announced that shortages of edible fungi could be expected for up to 10 weeks, due to the particular growing cycle of mushrooms. Production lags from mid-March, when sheltering in place began, coupled with the sudden halt in demand from restaurants, are both factors. Find other ways to get your umami on.
Java production was already lagging behind demand this year when coronavirus hit, which meant that producers dipped into their existing stockpiles of beans. Now, labor shortages and shutdowns in the South American countries where two-thirds of the world’s arabica beans are grown mean the current harvest is at risk. As a result, the price of coffee has already gone up. Anyone for tea?
Beverages from La Croix to beer get their fizz from C02, a byproduct of ethanol production. With the majority of ethanol plants shut down since March, carbonated-beverage manufacturers have been dealing with severe shortages. Smaller brands and craft brewers will likely be the hardest hit. Here are some other ideas for using your SodaStream in the meantime.
While it’s reassuring to know that staples like bottled water, dried beans, and bread have been given priority, and most other foods will only be temporarily out of stock, the same may not be true for your favorite niche products. Hernandez says he expects to see “a thinning of the herd” when it comes to things like granola, pasta sauces, and nut butters. Smaller brands with narrower profit margins may not be able to ride out the disruptions, and then it’s buh-bye to your favorites.
Many drive-throughs remained open during the pandemic, but with limited menus. Breakfast items in general took a hit without rush-hour commuters ordering, and McDonald’s no longer serves them all day. Wendy’s was affected by the beef shortage. As the country reopens, some of those items will be coming back—but not all of them. The revised McDonald’s menu doesn’t include salads, grilled chicken sandwiches, or chicken tenders, but cones and cookies are back. Aside from certain foods, here are other things you won’t find in McDonald’s anymore.
Your favorite birthday cake
To the chagrin of Costco shoppers everywhere, the chain’s most popular half-sheet cakes were discontinued in May, and while the store’s official statement did not provide a reason, conspiracy theorists are convinced COVID is to blame. Hernandez could not pinpoint any reason the supply chain would have caused this change, but he does say that in some small ways, the way we shop may be forever changed by COVID. More people are buying online and using delivery options, and the days when you could buy bagels or donuts that weren’t prepackaged from the bakery are gone—for now, and maybe for good.
For more on this developing situation, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.