Chicago business owners and chefs say getting cream cheese is a concern, but they’re also struggling to get hold of everything from pastrami meat to plastic wrappers. And when they find what they’re looking for, sometimes the price is much higher than what they’re used to.
“There are shortages of a lot of things,” says Marc Schulman, president of Eli’s Cheesecake, which produces cheesecakes and other desserts in Chicago. “Cream cheese is something that is particularly rare right now, as there aren’t a lot of people making cream cheese. We were fortunate not to have to suspend production.
Schulman declined to reveal who Eli’s cream cheese supplier is, but says the company has struggled to find other ingredients in recent months, including chocolate and sugar, as well as packaging for its desserts. Schulman started noticing supply issues in January, with shortages becoming more regular during the summer and fall.
To avoid production losses, Schulman says Eli’s purchasing team sometimes switched suppliers or purchased items earlier than usual to make sure they had them on hand when they needed them. .
“It definitely changes the way we operate our business,” says Schulman. “We have a very creative purchasing team. “
There have been cases where Eli’s simply had to pay more for ingredients that saw price spikes, a problem Chicago’s Steingold’s at Lakeview also encountered. Owner Aaron Steingold says he didn’t have too much trouble finding cream cheese and other ingredients for his Jewish deli, but when he goes looking for an item, the price is astronomical. Consumer prices rose 6.8% for the 12 months ending in November, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending in June 1982, according to data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Steingold said the price of the pastrami he purchases is up 95%. He noticed that other foods, like turkey, flour, and cinnamon, were also on the rise since the start of the year.
“The prices of a lot of things are very high and very out of the realm of normal,” Steingold said.
The increases have forced the store to raise prices for certain menu items. Prices for corned beef and pastrami dishes have increased by around 15%, Steingold said.
At Rye Deli & Drink, a Jewish-inspired grocery store in the West Loop that opened in 2020 during the pandemic, founding chef Billy Caruso says he’s struggled to get hold of paper products, chicken , products, flour and sugar.
“When we first opened this restaurant it was hard to know if you could get any of your deliveries,” Caruso said. “And I feel like it’s just getting worse and worse.”
The shortages have caused items to be changed or completely removed from the menu, Caruso said. But the cream cheese was not a problem; Rye Deli & Drink makes their schmear in-house, Caruso said.
Alan Reed, executive director of the Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network, says food shortages are the new normal.
“When we talk about supply chain challenges, this is just one example of the kinds of things food and beverage companies face all the time now,” says Reed. “Supply chains are just different. “
The Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network has around 500 members, including Kraft Heinz, Kellogg, and Tyson, as well as local food startups like Farmer’s Fridge and Simple Mills. Reed says members of all sizes and niches have told him they’ve had problems sourcing multiple ingredients over the past few months. Besides cream cheese, other foods that are hard to find in the past year include beans, sugar, and chocolate, he says.
Reed blamed supply chain issues on labor shortages and what he called a “changing definition of work” in manufacturing industries.
“A lot of companies have told me that it is very difficult to get someone to work on the weekends or the third shift,” says Reed. “There is good and bad in this. There is a return to making sure workers have everything they need and a bit of work-life balance. In some ways it’s healthy, but we are a culture that is not used to it.
Changing work habits are forcing companies to change how and when they order ingredients from manufacturers. Instead of ordering ingredients on a just-in-time schedule, sourcing teams should start planning and ordering more in advance, and branching out to new suppliers, Reed says. Local sourcing of ingredients could also help companies avoid delays, he added.
“Every once in a while, until things adjust, we’re going to have blackouts,” Reed says. “The supply chains we have are quite fragile.”