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Holiday Ingredients May Be in Short Supply. Now What?

Experts say the key is to shop early and know you might have to spend a little more

By Erin Flynn Jay

Supply chain woes may plague home cooks and bakers this holiday season at the grocery store. Some foods reported as being difficult to find include spinach, flour, flounder and crabmeat. If cooking or baking your traditional favorites is on your agenda, plan ahead and shop early. 

A person sifting flour into a bowl at home. Next Avenue, suppy chain shortage, food, holiday meals
Credit: Ben McLeod

While 26% of Americans surveyed by FMI (the Food Marketing Institute) worry that retailers could run out of favorite holiday foods, this number jumps to 45% among households with kids and grandkids.

The Sour News About Sweet Potatoes

The Wall Street Journal noted that supplies of food and household items are 4% to 11% lower than normal, as of Oct. 31. Turkeys were over 60% out of stock; cans of cranberry sauce are 20% out of stock and in decline; supplies of yams and sweet potatoes are a quarter out of stock and refrigerated pies will tie with turkeys as the holiday foods most out of stock this Thanksgiving.

One Next Avenue staffer recently went on a fruitless search at supermarkets and kitchen-supply stores for gluten-free stuffing, ultimately snagging a box by buying it online and waiting several weeks for the stuffing to arrive.

"So far it's not to the point where I have to shut down, but not all the major ingredients are always there."

At the same time that availability of holiday foods is declining, prices for these delectables are rising. FMI found that just over half of Americans (53%) have concerns about food inflation. And according to a recent New York Times story about how the cost of Thanksgiving dinner will be higher this year, these concerns are valid.  

Restaurants are definitely feeling the pinch both ways.

Claudio Conigliaro makes pizzas for Pizzeria Pesto in Philadelphia and said, at times, they have experienced a lack of spinach and that frying oil has doubled in price.

"So far it's not to the point where I have to shut down, but not all the major ingredients are always there," said Conigliaro.

The Impact of Supply Chain and Labor Woes

Suppliers around the world are being faced with an array of challenges, causing a domino effect for retailers and customers.

"Raw material and labor shortages, as well as transportation constraints, are impacting businesses the most, and it's expected to last well into next year," said Laura Camera, public relations specialist for Wegmans, a large Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern supermarket chain. "While we continue to have some out of stock [items] in our stores, we're in good shape for our customers' upcoming holiday celebrations."

Considering the ongoing challenges suppliers are facing and their experience from last holiday season, Camera said her stores have taken steps to secure holiday essentials earlier than usual and leveraged both Wegmans brand and national brand suppliers to ensure they have options available for customers.

Concetta Varallo, owner of Ristorante Pesto in Philadelphia, said that everything has gone up in price and there's a shortage of most items they make. Flour is in high demand (especially gluten-free flour) there, as are many other types of foods like meat and seafood, Varallo said.


Varallo said all types of seafood, meats and flour may be hard to find at the grocery store this holiday season.

How to Substitute Ingredients

What should you do so you can still be a good host?

"See if there's types of flours you can use that maybe aren't in demand or that maybe they (the store) have extra volumes of, because we've had a hard time."

For baking, Varallo suggested a substitution like semolina (white flour is the most popular type used in baking). "See if there's types of flours you can use that maybe aren't in demand or that maybe they (the stores) have extra volumes of, because we've had a hard time," she said.

Prepare to buy types of liquor, or brands, you might not have planned. Pesto is only allowed to order two bottles of any certain type of liquor, so they've had to tell some of their customers they don't have a particular type of whiskey, for example.

If shortages are affecting their business, Varallo said, they're also affecting everyone, and possibly especially older adults.

"It's more difficult because a lot of them don't go out because of the COVID going around," she said. "So, they prefer to eat at home or stay home and it's hard for them to find these products as well."

Varallo's suggestion on how to adapt to cooking for the holidays: Try to purchase what you'll need ahead of time or see if you can purchase in bulk.

"Maybe they're going to have to [look around], and maybe have to spend a little bit extra money because now everything is in short demand," she said.

Photograph of Erin Flynn Jay
Erin Flynn Jay is a journalist based in Philadelphia. Recent national writing includes First for Women, Woman's World Magazine, and Bar & Restaurant. Read More
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