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Economy

Food Shortages Around The World, Product By Product

The war in Ukraine and the climate crisis have been devastating for food production. Here's a look at some of the traditional foods from around the world that might be hard to find on supermarket shelves.

Photo of a person walking in a supermarket with empty shelves

A customer walking along the aisle of empty shelves in a supermarket

Lila Paulou and McKenna Johnson

The consequences of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia have been far-reaching. A Russian blockade of the Black Sea has meant Ukraine, known as “Europe’s breadbasket,” has been unable to export much of its huge harvests of wheat, barley and sunflower oil.

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So even those thousands of miles from the battlefields have been hit by the soaring prices of basic necessities.


According to the UN, in the past year, global food prices have increased by nearly one-third, fertilizer by more than half, and oil prices by almost two-thirds. The global food chain had already been struggling with increasingly frequent extreme climatic conditions and supply issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Depending on geography and supply chains, as well as national tastes and appetites, the lack of certain staple (and beloved) products is starting to be noticed around the world.

Dijon mustard

Each region of France is packed with local specialities that make up the country’s rich culinary heritage. But recently, many regional dishes have become harder to find in stores.

Take the example of classic Dijon mustard. Severe droughts in Canada in 2021 and 2022 have affected the production of mustard grains.The country is the world’s biggest supplier of mustard seeds.

Further down south, Agen’s famous prunes (“pruneaux d’Agen”) have been hit by an abnormally harsh frost season in early April for the second year in a row, taking a severe toll on the production.

In the north west, Brittany is holding its breath due to the possibly catastrophic impact of the war in Ukraine on its famous “galette de blé noir” (buckwheat crepe), as Russia and Ukraine account for a third of global buckwheat exports.

Pasta panic buying

Students, brace yourselves: Italian pasta manufacturers are increasing their prices due a combination of issues with the stalling importation of grain from Ukraine and Russia and the repercussions of rising energy costs on transportation fees.

In March, The News Glory reported that on average, a kilo of pasta cost 30 percent more than at the same period in 2021. Manufacturers warn that depending on how long the war goes on, stocks of pasta might run low. But for the time being, empty pasta shelves in supermarkets are mostly due to panic buying

.

Fish and chips and fertilizer

British fish and chips shops have bigger fish to fry — many are fighting for survival. The National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF) has warned that all four ingredients constituting the iconic takeaway food are being affected by the war in Ukraine. Indeed, British fish and chip shops import 50% of their oil from Ukraine and up to 40% of their cod and haddock from Russia. They also rely on the region for flour and the fertilizers used to grow potatoes.

Prices have significantly increased as a consequence, prompting at least three shops to close their doors. In total, a third of the UK’s 10,500 “chippies” could close by the end of the year. The NFFF has urged the British government to better support the industry. Other oily delicacies are also threatened by the soaring prices. Are Scotland’s deep fried Mars bars next?

Photo of a field of grain in Spain

A grain field in Mallorca

Clara Margais/dpa/Zuma

Sriracha, from Mexico to Thailand and California

The world is facing a shortage of Sriracha, the spicy sauce originating in Thailand, as a shortage of chili peppers — ongoing since 2020 — has caused manufacturer Huy Fong Foods Inc., based in California, to halt production of its Sriracha sauce, in addition to its Chili Garlic and Sambal Oelek sauces. The shortage was made worse by an “unexpected crop failure” from this spring’s chili harvest.

Lovers of the sauce took to social media calling the shortage the “worst news of the year” and the “end of days,” Bloomberg reports. Huy Fong typically produces 20 million bottles of Sriracha a year, according to Quartz, which requires around 100 million pounds of peppers. But the chili peppers are sourced from Mexico, California and New Mexico, which are all experiencing drought conditions. In a statement, the company said, “Unfortunately, we can confirm that there is an unprecedented shortage of our products.”

French fried

Recently, French fries were temporarily replaced by potato wedges in Singapore’s KFC restaurants… So the issue obviously wasn’t a shortage of potatoes, but rather a global supply chain disruption which has also affected Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia. This problem has been ongoing since late 2021 and is related to the pandemic, with increased customs checks at ports and labor shortages in the transportation sector. South Asia imports its French fries from Europe and the U.S.

The blockage of Russian and Ukrainian fertilizers is delaying potato production in certain areas of the world, as highlighted by the fish and chips shortage in the UK. This has also been true in Colombia, where the prices for potatoes have soared by three-quarters in 2022. The planting season was also disrupted by protests last year.

In Serbia, a combination of reasons has resulted in an ongoing potato shortage. As a drought severely damaged 2021’s production, the country relied massively on imports (mostly from France). This in turn discouraged local farmers from harvesting spuds, which consequently ended in skyrocketing prices.

Skipped meals in Sri Lanka

The invasion of Ukraine hit Sri Lankans badly, coming at the same time as their worst economic crisis since independence in 1948. Decades of corruption and mismanagement progressively emptied the government’s foreign reserves, preventing the country from importing essential items ranging from medicines and food to the fuels used for cooking and transportation. According to the United Nations, four out of five people in Sri Lanka now have to resort to skipping meals.

France 24 reports that food prices leapt 58% between May 2021 and May 2022, causing vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower and carrots to become extra expensive even for middle-class families. The new government has encouraged its civil servants to grow their own food in their gardens, by granting 1.5 million of them a paid “Farming Friday” off.

KFC in Australia

Do you hate having to wonder whether to go with the salad option when you go to a restaurant? This might not be much of a concern anymore if you live in Australia, where lettuce prices are skyrocketing. Recent floods and cold weather in Queensland and New South Wales have made it difficult for the delicate vegetable to grow. KFC Australia even decided to temporarily swap lettuce for cabbage until prices go back to normal.

This is only the tip of the iceberg (lettuce). Many other types of fruits and vegetables, including berries and beans, have been impacted by the abnormal weather conditions directly related to climate change, and these shortages are expected to last for weeks. On the other hand, consumers will find plenty of citrus, apples, pears, grapes and pumpkins.

Photo of Sriracha hot sauce

Sriracha hot sauce on sale in a California supermarket.

Ruaridh Stewart/ZUMA

New Zealand short on fizz

Despite there being too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, New Zealand’s food industry is facing a CO2 shortage which might produce some wide-ranging ripple effects. The gas is used as a preservative for meat, cheese and ready-to-eat meals. It is also obviously part of the composition of many fizzy drinks, including beer, sparkling wine and bubbly soft drinks. All these products risk becoming more scarce on supermarket shelves in the coming weeks, and perhaps more expensive too if no solution is found.

The food grade CO2 shortage is due to one of the nation’s only two suppliers, the Marsden Point oil refinery, closing this March. The other supplier — Todd Energy’s Kapuni gas field — has reduced its production due to ongoing maintenance until mid-August.

Asado and feijoada

In Latin America, the cost of many staple food items have increased tremendously in the past months. In Colombia, potatoes have gone up three quarters while tomatoes have doubled in price. In Mexico, the administration has unveiled a plan to boost the production of essential products such as corn, rice and beans to prevent prices from getting too high.

This shortage of essentials has affected the preparation of many popular dishes, like the asado barbecue in Argentina or feijoada in Brazil. The latter is mainly composed of beans, the production of which has been heavily damaged by high temperatures and heavy rainfall earlier this year. The increase of the cost of fuel and fertilizers due to the war in Ukraine was also a high factor.

Climate change factor

On the whole, we should get used to not being able to buy our favorite comfort food from the supermarket from time to time, as food shortages are very likely to worsen in the years to come.

Climate change is mainly to blame for that.

Climate change is mainly to blame for that. Higher temperatures are already affecting the harvests of many essentials, including chocolate, avocados, strawberries and honey, but also the fuel of offices worldwide: coffee.

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Future

Livestream Shopping Is Huge In China — Will It Fly Elsewhere?

Streaming video channels of people shopping has been booming in China, and is beginning to win over customers abroad as a cheap and cheerful way of selling products to millions of consumers glued to the screen.

A A female volunteer promotes spring tea products via on-line live streaming on a pretty mountain surrounded by tea plants.

In Beijing, selling spring tea products via on-line live streaming.

Xinhua / ZUMA
Gwendolyn Ledger

SANTIAGOTikTok, owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, has spent more than $500 million to break into online retailing. The app, best known for its short, comical videos, launched TikTok Shop in August, aiming to sell Chinese products in the U.S. and compete with other Chinese firms like Shein and Temu.

Tik Tok Shop will have three sections, including a live or livestream shopping channel, allowing users to buy while watching influencers promote a product.

This choice was strategic: in the past year, live shopping has become a significant trend in online retailing both in the U.S. and Latin America. While still an evolving technology, in principle, it promises good returns and lower costs.

Chilean Carlos O'Rian Herrera, co-founder of Fira Onlive, an online sales consultancy, told América Economía that live shopping has a much higher catchment rate than standard website retailing. If traditional e-commerce has a rate of one or two purchases per 100 visits to your site, live shopping can hike the ratio to 19%.

Live shopping has thrived in China and the recent purchases of shopping platforms in some Latin American countries suggests firms are taking an interest. In the United States, live shopping generated some $20 billion in sales revenues in 2022, according to consultants McKinsey. This constituted 2% of all online sales, but the firm believes the ratio may become 20% by 2026.

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