Cream Cheese, Lumber, and Other Pandemic Shortages

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If you were brave enough to venture out to a grocery store early last year, you probably couldn't believe your eyes. Displays were swept clean of tons of products we normally take for granted, from the infamous (toilet paper) to the less obvious (Grape-Nuts and Goldfish crackers). But on-and-off shortages continue to plague stores, most recently affecting bagel lovers and even an entire nation's ability to get its french fry fix. Here's a look at things that have been in especially short supply, from the beginning of the pandemic until now.

Related: Shortages That Could Make Your Holidays Way Less Merry

McDonald's Fries
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French Fries (in Japan)

While this shortage is East Asia-specific (rest easy, America, you can — for now — still get your fry fix), McDonald's reported that it would limit its Japanese customers to one small serving of fries from Dec. 24-30. The rationing is thanks to supply issues caused by recent floods in Canada, which is a significant transit point for potato shipments, as well as pandemic distribution issues. The news was met with the usual degree of snark on Twitter: "Oh no," wrote one user, "the end is coming ..."

Related: Why McDonald's Fries Used to Taste Better

cream cheese

Cream Cheese

You can thank hackers for that dry bagel as the end of the year approaches. News outlets reported that the recent shortage of cream cheese is due to a cyberattack all the way back in October against the the U.S.'s largest cheese manufacturer. The shortage even prompted one distributor, Kraft — maker of Philadelphia Cream Cheese — to offer a limited number of customers $20 in cash to spend on a store-bought cheesecake if they couldn't make the dessert at home. Strange times we live in, indeed. 

Related: The Craziest Marketing Stunts of All Time

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More kids have headed back to school after a year of remote learning, and they need lunch. But Lunchables, a lunch-box staple, are hard to find on grocery shelves. According to Kraft Heinz, the product recently saw its first double-digit sales growth in years, and that sudden popularity combined with pandemic-related supply-chain problems to leave sad kids without their favorite lunch treat (not to mention sad parents who have to muster the effort to make a sandwich again). 

RelatedSuper Easy Back-to-School Lunches

Regenerating Body Parts

Automotive Microchips

It's been notoriously difficult to purchase a car during much of the pandemic, with prices of both new and used cars soaring. The culprit: A shortage of microchips, tiny electronic parts that number near 100 in most new cars. Chip suppliers had to shut down manufacturing early in the pandemic to protect workers, and the demand for home electronics, which also use microchips, increased as more people worked from home. The problem isn't going away anytime soon, according to analysts, who don't see supply catching up with demand until 2023

RelatedCars That Cost More Used Than New

Frappuccino beverage from Starbucks Coffee


Earlier this summer, Starbucks was hit by a supply chain disruption that made more than two dozen ingredients hard to find, meaning some popular summer drinks such as Peach Green Tea Lemonade and the Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher were off limits, and even oat milk was unavailable for your non-dairy latte. Hazelnut syrup, toffee nut syrup, chai tea bags, and green iced tea are some of the missing ingredients that have caused hiccups at the coffee chain.

Pool testing kit being used in a swimming pool


You can't blame COVID-19 entirely for this shortage. While more people decided to use their pools last year and increased demand for chlorine, a chlorine plant in Louisiana burned down in August 2020 and isn't scheduled to resume production until 2022. Unfortunately, higher demand and reduced supply meant that prices for chlorine spiked this summer. 

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Construction Workers Working On Wooden Roof Of House.


While trees haven't stopped growing, the production of lumber stalled during the pandemic — just when everyone either wanted a new house, a new deck, or had another lumber-based remodeling idea in mind. Lumber prices are starting to return to normal, but in the spring, softwood lumber, the kind used to frame houses and small buildings, saw prices spike by 112%, while plywood was up 77% and hardwood saw a 32% increase. 


Beer and Soda

Cracking open a cold one became a little more difficult in 2020, when manufacturers simply couldn't churn out aluminum cans fast enough. Pandemic demand and a prior shift away from plastic contributed to the shortages, industry officials say. Among one of the most prominent brands in short supply: Dr Pepper, which acknowledged a shortage in August. Coca-Cola even dumped entire brands, including Tab, Odwalla, Diet Coke Feisty Cherry, and Coke Life. 

Related: Where to Order Beer, Wine, and Liquor Online

Getty Images | Justin Sullivan


Remember how hard it was to get your hands on some chicken breasts or a pound of ground beef last spring? It didn't stem from a lack of chickens, cows, or other livestock, but the rapid spread of COVID-19 inside of meat-processing plants. Lower production came as demand from home cooks skyrocketed, compounding the problem. Supply rebounded in a big way in the fall, and meat prices actually declined as demand also leveled off, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Related: 17 Places to Order Pork, Steaks, and Other Meats Online

Ake Dynamic/istockphoto

Hand Sanitizer

Today, you can hardly stroll through the store without being accosted by hand-sanitizer displays, but last year, finding a bottle felt like hitting the lottery. It's no wonder: Sales skyrocketed 600% in 2020 as worried shoppers stocked up. Distilleries around the country even stepped in to start making sanitizer through spring and summer, but most stopped as the product made its way back onto shelves in more traditional forms in the fall. 

Related: How to Disinfect Without Damaging Your Things or Your Health

Stefanie Prag/istockphoto

Dishwasher Detergent and Dish Soap

The funny thing about being home all the time: The dishes never seem to end. If you found bare shelves where the dish soap and dishwasher detergent usually is early last year, you aren't alone. Manufacturers including Unilever and Procter & Gamble experienced a surge in demand not only because of constant dishwashing, but because some buyers even started using dish soap as an alternative to hard-to-find hand soap. 

Related: Creative Alternatives to Household Products in Short Supply

Buy Dried Beans


In some ways, a bean shortage and a global pandemic go hand in hand, at least in the United States. "In mainstream American culture, beans have long been associated with the end of the world and beloved by those who think they might survive it," Eater notes. In other words, COVID-19 made us all disaster preppers, so it follows that beans became a pandemic prize. We bought 200% more dried beans in 2020 than 2019, and prices of this normally cheap staple jumped more than 7%.

Related: 30 Creative Rice and Bean Dishes From Around the World

Grape-nuts Sponsored An Antarctic Expedition
Toilet Paper


A tumbleweed wouldn't have looked out of place in the pasta aisle of many grocery stores early last year. Americans hit this shelf-stable, comfort-food staple hard at the beginning of the pandemic, stocking up on box after box. That put pasta makers in a crunch as they rushed to hire enough workers, reconfigure packaging, and manage other logistics to ramp up production. Sadly, bucatini fans have found their favorite pasta to be among the last to return to shelves

Related: Where to Find Good, Cheap Pasta in Every State


Liquid Hand Soap

Early in the pandemic, several 20-second rounds of hand-washing became a part of our daily routines, which meant those convenient bottles of liquid hand soap were not long for supermarket shelves. Part of the problem: The pumps that manufacturers typically use for packaging were in short supply. Innovations including soap refills and even soap "swatches" have started to fill in the gaps, especially as customers continue to buy more eco-friendly products.  

Related: Things You Should Stop Buying in 2021



Early in the pandemic, reports trickled out that Tylenol and generic acetaminophen were better over-the-counter painkillers to have on hand in case of a COVID-19 infection. That's because some experts had speculated that using non-steroidals such as ibuprofen could actually worsen symptoms, though researchers have since said those fears are unfounded. Still, the reports were enough to cause a run on Tylenol, forcing Johnson & Johnson to boost production and stores to limit how much people could buy.

Related: 50 Events That Made Retail History Before the Pandemic

... or Antibacterial Wipes

Antibacterial Wipes

Clorox wipes and their ilk were one of the first things to fly off grocery-store shelves during the pandemic, and one of the last to return. Wipes makers faced not just higher demand, but big supply-chain disruptions and competition for materials from companies making personal protective equipment. In fact, it's only been this year that known brands such as Lysol and Clorox have semi-reliably returned to store shelves.

Related: Things You Should Never Clean With Disinfecting Wipes

Goldfish Crackers
Tiger Images/shutterstock
large bag flour


Just as newly minted home bakers stocked their kitchens with eggs and yeast as the pandemic took hold, they also snapped up flour. One milling executive described last spring as "Thanksgiving and Christmas all rolled into one" but noted that wheat was in robust supply. The sticking point was logistics, with producers unable to mill and pack flour fast enough to satisfy a shift from commercial to home demand.

Related: Top Bread Makers and Other Bread-Making Supplies for Baking at Home

Paper Towels

Paper Towels

Paper towels have been frustratingly hard to find during the pandemic, and some aisles remain sparse even a year after lockdowns began. While plenty of shoppers have hoarded paper towels, there are other factors at play, too. One is "lean manufacturing," which means paper-towel makers weren't churning out any excess product before the pandemic in an effort to keep costs down, a practice that left them flat-footed when demand zoomed up. And like many manufacturers, they had issues sourcing materials.

Related: Cleaning Products That are a Complete Waste of Money