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Starbucks, Chlorine, Lumber, and Other Items in Short Supply

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If you were brave enough to venture out to a grocery store this time 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 shortages continued throughout the year, most recently affecting the beloved coffee chain Starbucks and even your swimming pool. Here's a look at things that were in especially short supply at the beginning of the pandemic and even now.


Related: How the Pandemic Changed Our Lives in 2020


Frappuccino beverage from Starbucks Coffee
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Starbucks

Before you assume all pandemic shortages disappeared with the arrival of vaccines or summer weather, not so fast. Starbucks is experiencing a supply chain disruption that's made 25 ingredients hard (if not impossible) to find, meaning some popular summer drinks such as Peach Green Tea Lemonade and the Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher can't be made, and even oat milk is unavailable for your non-dairy latte. Hazelnut syrup, toffee nut syrup, chai tea bags, and green iced tea are some of the ingredients you might be missing this summer, though no word on how long this supply hiccup might last.

Pool testing kit being used in a swimming pool
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Chlorine

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 mean that prices for chlorine are expected to spike 70% this summer. But that doesn't mean a summer staring at an empty pool — consider using bromine or a salt water option. 

Construction Workers Working On Wooden Roof Of House.
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Lumber

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. While you can still get wood, it will cost you. Softwood lumber, the kind used to frame houses and small buildings, has seen its price spike by 112% since April 2020, while plywood is up 77% and hardwood has seen a 32% increase. 

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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


Meat
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

Meat

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


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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


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soap
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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
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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
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Grape-Nuts

While most of the cereal aisle managed to stay stocked decently during the pandemic, there was one interesting exception: Grape-Nuts. Post, maker of the iconic brand, blamed a "proprietary technology and a production process that isn't easily replicated" for the shortage, which didn't hit until late 2020. Thankfully, the wait is almost over for Grape-Nuts faithful, and the cereal should be back in stock soon, Post says.


Related: Things You Didn't Know About Your Favorite Childhood Cereal

Toilet Paper
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Eggs
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yeast
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Pasta

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

soap
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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


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Tylenol

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
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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
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large bag flour
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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
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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