Store shelves are nearly empty
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Toilet Paper, Hot Sauce, and Other Pandemic-Era Shortages

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Orange plastic halloween bucket filled and overflowing with candy
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Out of Stock

If you were brave enough to venture out to a grocery store early on in the pandemic, 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 (Goldfish and Grape-Nuts). But shortages continue to affect all manner of goods, leading to frustration not only at the grocery store but at places like the car dealership and even the cemetery. And if that wasn't frightening enough, Halloween candy, too, may be in short supply and hard to find come October.


Related: Record Inflation Continues to Bust Consumers' Budgets

Hershey's Halloween Candy
The Hershey Company

Halloween Candy

To every trick-or-treaters delight, you may have to resort to giving out full-size candy bars this Halloween. Hershey has warned that it won't be able to meet consumer demand for Halloween-themed candy this year. It's because of a number of factors, including the difficult decision to prioritize everyday candy to meet higher demand, which means that they're making less for the holidays, according to Hershey CEO Michele Buck. Add in supply chain issues and higher dairy prices related to the war in Ukraine, and you've got a scary recipe for Halloween disappointment. 


RelatedPopular Chocolate Halloween Candies Ranked from Worst to Best

Toilet Paper
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Toilet Paper

The pandemic's most famously out-of-stock item, toilet paper was nowhere to be found in spring 2020. Toilet-paper sales jumped a staggering 845% as buyers hoarded the stuff and manufacturers struggled to pivot from commercial production and satisfy home buyers instead. Shelves were finally replenished by summer, only to go bare again when COVID-19 cases surged toward the end of the year. It's possible stock will fluctuate through the end of 2022 while a bridge near Asia Pulp & Paper in South Sumatra is repaired after a crash, disrupting the company's shipping logistics.


Related: Things You Never Knew About Toilet Paper


Woman reaching for another pack of sanitary pads
zoranm/istockphoto

Tampons

People who menstruate are finding empty shelves instead of tampons at stores across the U.S. Users on social media report that chain pharmacies have been mostly cleared out, and CVS has said that suppliers haven't been able to fulfill orders in recent weeks. Labor challenges, increasing materials costs, and logistics issues are all contributing to the shortage. Procter & Gamble, which makes Tampax products, says it has started to make tampons 24/7 in order to meet the increased demand. 


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Huy Fong's Rooster Sriracha HOT Chili Sauce
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Sriracha

It might be time to start sampling other hot sauces to find a new go-to if you're a Sriracha fanatic. Huy Fong Inc., one of the largest producers of Asian hot sauces, revealed that a shortage of the beloved hot sauce is on the horizon. In a statement, the company said, “Unfortunately, we can confirm that there is an unprecedented shortage of our products. We are still endeavoring to resolve this issue that has been caused by several spiraling events, including unexpected crop failure from the spring chili harvest.” In addition to Sriracha, the shortage is also expected to affect the company's Sambal Oelek and Chili Garlic products. 


Related: We Tried 20 Popular Hot Sauces. This Is the Best

Close-up serving popcorn at a concession stand at the cinema
andresr/istockphoto

Popcorn

Munching on buttery popcorn at the theater is an indulgent pleasure, but it may become a rare treat. Farmers are switching to other crops that are more productive and require less expensive fertilizer, so popcorn is becoming more expensive to produce. On top of that, popcorn tubs are getting harder to find thanks to a shortage of the butter-resistant film that coats the inside, prompting some theaters to switch to pricier plastic or metal containers. It's all happening at the most inopportune time for theaters as people finally start going to movies again — the new "Top Gun: Maverick" just made record-breaking sales over Memorial Day weekend.


RelatedThe Top Summer Movies of the Past 25 Years

spoon with infant formula
DimaSobko/istockphoto

Baby Formula

Parents have been struggling with shortages of baby formula, with out-of-stock rates jumping to a shocking 40%, up from the single digits earlier in 2021. Some states have even reported out-of-stock rates as high as 50%. Manufacturers are ramping up production, but stores including Target, Kroger, Walgreens, and CVS have implemented purchase limits on formula thanks to recent recalls and ongoing supply-chain issues. Parents have been posting desperate pleas on social media, bartering, and even driving to far-flung cities to secure what they need. The shortage has reached such a critical point that the U.S. military recently flew in 35 tons of hypoallergenic formula. Still, the shipment never saw store shelves. It was distributed to dairy-intolerant babies in areas with the most acute need.


Related: CVS Will Close 900 Stores

Coin Background on Wood
Newell's photography/istockphoto

Coins

It's officially time to stop hoarding that pocket change — quarters, nickels, dimes, and pennies are in short supply again. There was a coin shortage back in summer 2020 as well, when germ-conscious consumers switched primarily to using credit cards and a coin task force had to implore Americans to break open their piggy banks. While credit cards seem simple enough to use, the issue lies with retailers who may not have enough change for customers who are only able to make cash purchases. 


Related: Why Pennies Still Exist and Other Money Trivia

Canned Biscuits and Pizza Rolls
Walmart

Canned Biscuits and Pizza Rolls

Notice that refrigerated doughs and Totino's Pizza Rolls are missing from your store's shelves? You're not alone, because General Mills is struggling to meet demand. The company cites "acute supply shortages" of Pillsbury dough and Totino's products due to supply-chain disruptions, ingredient shortages, and labor shortages. The problem was worst in December, January, and February, when the company could only meet 70% of demand for its products. Though the situation has recently improved, General Mills expects to meet only 80% of demand, so you may be better off learning your auntie's biscuit recipe. 


RelatedWe Tried 8 Store-Bought Cinnamon Rolls and These Were the Best

Headstones in a cemetery during the day
dallasgolden/istockphoto

Headstones

In some cases, supply-chain woes reach far beyond grocery shelves. Sadly, shortages of granite, saws, stencils, and workers have collided with increased demand for headstones, leading to excruciatingly long waits for memorials by grieving families. Supply-chain disruptions have made it harder to get granite that is produced overseas, and domestic quarries have been overwhelmed, according to CNN. And it's not just pandemic-related deaths that have driven up demand for memorials — baby boomers are pre-ordering headstones as well, adding to the shortages. 


Related: What to Do When a Loved One Dies

Kellogg's Rice Krispies
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Rice Krispies

After a 71-day Kellogg's employee strike ended in December 2021, production of the noisy cereal was behind, and people began noticing that the iconic blue boxes were snap, crackle, and missing from grocery shelves. But it wasn't just the strike that affected production of the cereal. Pandemic supply-chain disruptions delivered a crucial hit to the cereal's crucial main ingredient — rice. And those who were lucky enough to find a box probably winced at the price. Last year, rice production in the U.S. fell 16% from 2020, driving up costs. The increased cost of packaging has also been passed along in higher prices for consumers.


Related: Childhood Cereals We Wish They'd Bring Back

Girl Scouts of the USA
Girl Scouts of the USA

Girl Scout Cookies

Girl Scouts gained some real-world experience in supply and demand this past cookie season thanks to supply chain issues and inflation. The Kentucky-based bakery that supplies the majority of the organization's cookies grappled with production delays, which affected how many cookies Girl Scouts had available to sell. For those that were able to track down the cookies they wanted, they probably also noticed that prices went up $1 to $2 a box.

Cheap Flower Delivery
vgajic/istockphoto

Flowers

Fresh flowers have been harder to find around the world, thanks not only to labor shortages and supply-chain issues, but uncooperative weather in popular growing regions. Florists emphasize that buyers need to be more understanding about substitutions this year, and say prices will also be up on extras like chocolates and even vases. 

McDonald's Fries
Scott Olson / Getty Images News / Getty Images CC

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 through the beginning of 2022. 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 ..."

cream cheese
littleny/istockphoto

Cream Cheese

You can thank hackers for that dry bagel. News outlets reported that the recentshortage of cream cheese was 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. 

Lunchables
Courtesy of target.com

Lunchables

When kids returned to school after a year of remote learning, the sudden need to fill their lunchboxes reared its ugly head and Lunchables, as a result, became hard to find on grocery shelves. According to Kraft Heinz, the product saw its first double-digit sales growth in years, and that sudden popularity combined with pandemic-related supply-chain problems left some kids without their favorite lunch treat.

Regenerating Body Parts
GoodLifeStudio/istockphoto

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

Frappuccino beverage from Starbucks Coffee
segray/istockphoto

Starbucks

In mid-2021, 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
mustafagull/istockphoto

Chlorine

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

Construction Workers Working On Wooden Roof Of House.
ArtistGNDphotography/istockphoto

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. Lumber prices are starting to return to normal, but last 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. 

iStock-1177849517.jpg
GoodLifeStudio/istockphoto

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. Among one of the most prominent brands that were in short supply: Dr Pepper, which acknowledged a shortage in August 2020. Coca-Cola even dumped entire brands, including Tab, Odwalla, Diet Coke Feisty Cherry, and Coke Life. 


Meat
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan
iStock-1249521969.jpg
Ake Dynamic/istockphoto

Hand Sanitizer

Today, you can hardly stroll through the store without being accosted by hand-sanitizer displays, but earlier in the pandemic, 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

soap
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 in 2020, 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. 

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
DebbiSmirnoff/istockphoto

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. 

Eggs
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Eggs

The nation's hens didn't suddenly stop laying eggs when we went into lockdown, but federal guidelines on egg packaging and labeling kept producers from being able to meet increased demand fast enough. Fortunately, the FDA did relax those rules eventually, and stores were able to sell the eggs normally meant for schools, restaurants, and other venues where they were no longer needed.

yeast
RapidEye/istockphoto

Yeast

Hunger and boredom collided during pandemic lockdowns, prompting legions of folks to suddenly start baking bread. That meant yeast, once a lowly staple of the baking aisle, suddenly became a hot commodity. Yeast sales zoomed up more than 400% as home kitchens churned out everything from sourdough to homemade pizza, according to USA Today. 

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AngiePhotos/istockphoto

Pasta

A tumbleweed wouldn't have looked out of place in the pasta aisle of many grocery stores in 2020. 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. 

soap
AlexRaths

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.  


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traveler1116/istockphoto

Canned Soup

If your idea of comfort food is a hot bowl of soup, you're far from alone. Campbell's in particular had a hard time keeping its products on shelves in the first half of 2020 as shoppers snapped up shelf-stable, easy-to-make offerings such as soup. General Mills also reported a shortage of its Progresso brand, and even cut varieties from its lineup in an effort to meet demand more efficiently.

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skhoward/istockphoto

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.

... or Antibacterial Wipes
XAOC/istockphoto
Goldfish Crackers
Tiger Images/shutterstock

Goldfish Snack Crackers

Predictably, there was also a pandemic run on the snack aisle, and while that was a good thing for some brands including Lay's, others, such a Pepperidge Farm's iconic Goldfish crackers, didn't fare as well. Goldfish actually hit a sales slump in spring 2020 brought on by unfulfilled demand for the kid-friendly favorite, according to Fox Business.

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danielvfung/istockphoto

Frozen Food

We're used to being spoiled for choice in the grocery store's frozen-food section, but near-empty freezer cases were a common sight when sales spiked roughly 70% early in the pandemic. Demand remains strong today, and several companies including such big names as Lean Cuisine, Amy's, and Marie Callender's have been forced to consolidate product lines to keep stores stocked with more-popular favorites.


large bag flour
ligora/istockphoto

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 2020 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.

Paper Towels
Eerik/istockphoto

Paper Towels

Paper towels have been frustratingly hard to find during the pandemic, and some aisles remain sparse even today. 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've had issues sourcing materials.