Nothing To Schmear: NYC Faces Cream Cheese Shortage

Will New York City's bagel shops soon find themselves schmearless?

As a Chicagoan, I can sometimes grow irritated by the unquestioned supremacy of New York City. (To wit, I invite you to read my thoughts on bodegas here.) But there is at least one thing that New York admittedly does better than any other US city, and that's bagels. So you can understand the dire concern swirling around NYC's looming cream cheese shortage.

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The New York Times reports that NYC bagel shops are scrambling to find more cream cheese, with some famous shops like Absolute Bagels claiming to only have enough left in stock to last for about five days. Shop owners are begging distributors for whatever cream cheese they've got, and their orders are coming up short.

"I've never been out of cream cheese for 30 years," Joseph Yemma, owner of F&H Dairies in Brooklyn, told the Times. "There's no end in sight."

The dearth of cream cheese can be attributed to that needling phrase that has been repeated with mounting alarm for about 18 months now: supply chain issues. Philadelphia, which supplies many shops with their cream cheese base, simply hasn't been able to keep up with demand. And since a typical NYC bagel shop can go through thousands of pounds of cream cheese in just a few weeks, news of a shortage has left proprietors with only days to figure out whether they'll have anything left to serve customers. (The Times polled some of those customers and found that many would forego a bagel altogether if they couldn't get it with cream cheese.)

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And finding a short-term solution to the shortage is not as simple as buying bricks of the Philadelphia cream cheese at the grocery store to make up the difference. Not only would unwrapping those individual portions make bagel operations far less efficient, but the cream cheese that is typically supplied to bagel shops is a very different beast, delivered raw so as to be whipped and combined with mix-ins and flavorings by the bagel shop itself. If the waxier store-bought stuff started showing up on bagels, customers would be pissed—and who wants to risk losing business at such a tenuous time for the industry?

A spokesperson for Kraft Heinz, owner of the Philadelphia brand, provided a rather vague explanation of the shortage to the 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."

The cream cheese shortage is one of many that bagel shops currently face. They might not get their meat orders one day, or their supply of wrappers, or beverages. Supply chain issues are pervasive and wide-ranging, so it bears mentioning that as the shops try to figure out workarounds, the best thing we can do as customers is be patient with the businesses we patronize.

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And by the way, someone should probably tell McDonald's Canada to start rationing the cream cheese a bit better.

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