The NYC Cream Cheese Shortage Could Spell Bad News For Bagel Fans

Along with bagels and lox or smoked salmon, cream cheese has long been the third part of the holy trinity that makes up a traditional New York breakfast. In a recent feature for Today, Al Roker focused on the origins of this unique combination, attributing it to Jewish American immigrants "mixing and sharing their food traditions," establishing them in their new home of NYC.

But this breakfast is currently being threatened — at least temporarily — by supply chain problems that have taken over just about every part of the global market today, impacting the production of major grocery items from potato chips and Grape Nuts to trendy beverages ... except now it's cream cheese's turn. The New York Times says the city's bagel makers are now tussling with what the publication is calling a "schmear shortage," which has hit just about every store in town. As dairy product distributor Joseph Yemma points out: "I've never been out of cream cheese for 30 years ... [but] there's no end in sight."

The nightmare for New York's bagel stores began late last month when dairy suppliers admitted that cream cheese supplies — many of which come in quantities of hundreds of pounds, would not be coming in. Now, store owners are looking to replenish their cream cheese stores in any way they can, whether it's driving across state lines, or entertaining the idea of using little packs of schmears. 

Cream cheese shortages are the result of "elevated, sustained demand"

Grub Street for New York Magazine pins the shortage on a number of reasons, including a sharp rise in the demand for the product and labor shortages experienced by other parts of the food supply chain. Kraft Heinz, which makes most of the cream cheese consumed at home — as well as its unwhipped and unprocessed cousin, which is shipped to bagel stores — says it has already tried to make up for rising demand by increasing the amount of cream cheese it ships out by more than 30% this year. But as company spokesman Jenna Thornton tells The New York Times, "We continue to see elevated and sustained demand across a number of categories where we compete. As more people continue to eat breakfast at home and use cream cheese as an ingredient in easy desserts, we expect to see this trend continue." 

Bagel stores aren't the only ones who are facing difficult times thanks to the cream cheese shortage; bakeries that produce cheesecakes and other cream cheese-based desserts are also unable to get their hands on the product. "Everyone right now on the market is scrambling to purchase whatever Kraft products they can. It's not just cream cheese," food distributor Phil Pizzano says. Nothing is forever — not even supply challenges that look as dire as this one. But no one knows when this shortage will end, and New Yorkers may need to think about having their bagels with something else other than cream cheese, at least for the time being.