From Sriracha to soba: Why our favorite foods are in short supply

It doesn’t get much simpler than this. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Kate Krader

LONDON – Push a shopping cart around a supermarket and, wherever you are in the world, there’s a strong chance you’ll encounter gaping gaps on shelves. From basic items such as bread and butter, to meat, drinks and spicy condiments, global consumers are contending with missing, rationed or price-hiked items.

A growing cost of living crisis, lingering impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the nearly six-month war in Ukraine and battered global supply chains are among the reasons for grocery shortages.

Here are just a few beloved missing items from stores around the globe:

1. United States: Sriracha sauce

The spicy red hot sauce – loved for its sharp kick – is running low. Maker Huy Fong Foods explained to die-hard fans that the condiment would be missing from shelves due to drought and ongoing extreme weather impacting chile pepper crops. The California-based company said it hopes supplies can resume in the fall.

“I am a huge Sriracha fan and put it on everything,” Madeline Monroe, a D.C.-based designer told The Washington Post, adding that she puts it in her pasta sauce, on grain bowls and in wraps. “I noticed on my last trip a week ago there weren’t any Sriracha bottles at my local Safeway.”

Fellow “hardcore addict” Brian Beker, a writer in Vermont, told The Post he had frantically searched shelves and sought a replacement when he first noticed the shortages, but “finally, after two months of searching, I found a last holdout ― an 8.5 pound jug and ordered that. I’ve never waited for a package to arrive with greater concern.”

2. United Kingdom: Butter

Butter is a basic staple in British kitchens used in copious quantities, not just slathered on bread, but also in the nation’s beloved cakes and biscuits. However, due to an ongoing foreign labor shortage after Brexit, the golden yellow spread is absent from many store shelves. Dairy cooperative, Arla Foods, which makes several brands of butter, has blamed a “chronic shortage of suitably-qualified farmworkers,” for “undermining our food security,” and impacting the availability and soaring price of butter and milk products.

A kilo of its Lurpak brand butter sold for almost $12 in July – up from around $8 in prior months, with British tabloids and social media jesting about swapping a block of butter for houses or cars, and calling on the government to “nationalize Lurpak.”

Liz Oughton, a baker in central England, told The Washington Post she regularly visits multiple supermarkets to seek out the lowest prices and has switched to an oil-based baking spread for her cookies, due to the “astronomical rise” in the cost of butter.

“I get quite anxious every time I do a shop as the prices seem to be rising so quickly,” said Oughton, founder of Bostin Bakery, famed for its Cherry Bakewell – a cookie made with almond dough, marzipan and cherries. “I am trying my best not to put our prices up as I know everyone is feeling the squeeze, including our customers.”

3. France: Mustard

The French are outraged at the widespread shortages and rationing of their beloved Dijon mustard. The spicy condiment used on sandwiches, salads and steak tartare has been in short supply.

“The audacity!” exclaimed Claire Dinhut, who shared a local scandal of a neighbor overbuying the rationed item in a TikTok video that went viral.

Extreme weather and drought have crushed the mustard seed supply inside and outside France, with the pandemic’s impact still being felt on global supply chains from other countries, mostly Canada. The shortage is also sparking calls to bring home the production of mustard seeds and rely less on other nations.

“I haven’t had mustard in three months,” one exasperated Parisian bodega owner, Hassan Talbi, told The Post. “You won’t find any.”

4. Lebanon: Bread

Lebanon was already crippled by a financial crisis and a 2020 port explosion that wiped out its grain silos. The cutoff in wheat exports from Ukraine has worsened shortages of state-subsidized pita bread – disc-shaped loaves that are found on tables everywhere across the Middle East.

The shortages have led to lines forming outside bakeries – with fights breaking out at times.

“It affects not just us, as bakeries, but everyone. Bread is the most important thing,” said an employee at a bakery in Beirut, who asked not to be identified to speak candidly without his employer’s permission. “People are used to buying many loaves, and now they might come in on a Sunday to find none. It’s upsetting.”

Several other countries in the region, including Egypt and war-torn Yemen, which relied on Ukraine for wheat, have also seen shortages or price hikes.

Because of its status as a staple for local cuisine and its importance in poorer communities, bread, or rather its price, can often be political. The word Egyptians use for it – “aysh,” Arabic for “living” or “subsistence” – became part of a protest chant during the 2011 uprising.

5. Pakistan: Tea

The milky, hot caffeinated beverage is sipped multiple times a day by most Pakistanis, but earlier this year the government urged them to cut back to help the economy. “I appeal to the people to reduce their tea drinking by one or two cups a day,” Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal told the nation in June. He said the country was struggling with low foreign currency reserves needed to pay for imported tea.

The chai curbs did not go down well. Newspapers ran headlines slamming the “austeri-tea,” while a social media storm brewed online, with many vowing never to give up the drink and urging Iqbal instead to resign.

“Taking tea is part of the culture here. If we serve lavish food to guests and don’t offer tea, the guest minds it,” Farman Ullah Jan, a pharmacist in northern Pakistan, told The Post. In May, the country also imposed a ban on imports of dozens of nonessential luxury goods.

6. Australia: Eggs

Traditional “brekky” fry ups may have a key product missing from plates in Australia, as supermarkets impose buying limits on cartons of eggs. The shortages and rationing are blamed on lingering impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted supply chains, and winter weather that means fewer eggs are being laid by free range chickens.

“It’s hard to have poached eggs on toast or scrambled eggs on toast if you don’t have eggs,” Wes Lambert, director of the Australian Foodservice Advocacy Body told the country’s SBS News.

“We have a war in Europe affecting the supply chain, we have the weather in Australia and around the world, we have the increase of input costs . . . and finally, we have a severe workforce shortage in Australia,” he added, a combination which has “led to the perfect storm.”

7. Somalia: Grain

A confluence of years of inadequate rainfall, drought and extreme heat, made worse by climate change, along with conflict and the war in Ukraine is exacerbating a food crisis in Somalia – pushing many to the brink of famine. The price of grain and wheat, basic staples in the country used to feed families and livestock, have soared.

In the capital, Mogadishu, the cost of a 400-gram (14-ounce) can of wheat has doubled since February, with the price of other grains, vegetables and fruits climbing too. “After the Ukraine war began, everything shot up in price,” storekeeper Hirsi Mohamed told The Post.

Although a handful of grain shipments left Ukrainian ports this month under a fragile United Nations-brokered deal with Russia, the impact has yet to be fully felt in markets and stores. “Communities are at a breaking point,” Mohamud Mohamed Hassan, Somalia country director for the charity Save the Children told The Post. “Many people would have survived if the Ukrainian crisis was not there and food was coming in.”

8. Japan: Soba noodles

Buckwheat from Russia, which is used to make Japan’s staple soba noodles, is another casualty of the Ukraine war, impacted by the shaky global supply chain. The cost of buckwheat flour has gone up around 10 to 20% since June. Other items used in soba, including oil and soy sauce, have also become more expensive.

Slurped by millions daily and on New Year’s Eve to bring good luck and prosperity, the usually quick, cheap noodles have disappeared from some menus or experienced price hikes for the first time in decades.

“Soba is a very traditional food in Japan,” Junko Hayashi, who also runs cooking lessons for tourists, told The Post. “There are definitely several soba restaurants even in a small town like my neighborhood, Omori.”

Noodle prices are also soaring in China and South Korea, while an economic minister from Indonesia raised concerns over the rising price of instant Indomie noodles at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year. In Thailand, the makers of five instant-noodle brands said this week that they can’t afford to keep their products as cheap as the Thai government wants under a price gap, due to rising inflation.

– – –

The Washington Post’s Julia Mio Inuma, Sarah Dadouch, Sudarsan Raghavan, Annabelle Timsit and Haq Nawaz Khan contributed to this report.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here