Don’t panic, but we’re running out of things to panic about running out of. It seems every month the Internet becomes hysterical over an alleged shortage of some popular item. But more often than not, these “shortages” are just live demonstrations of economics at work, taking us on a roller coaster of supply and demand made sensational by panic-inducing headlines. Let’s put a few of these rumors to rest.
You’ve probably read the headlines: “The world’s biggest chocolate-maker says we’re running out of chocolate,” raves the Washington Post. “The cocoa crisis: Why the world’s stash of chocolate is melting away,” The Guardian warns. But fear not, cocoa connoisseurs: The sweet stuff isn’t going anywhere. It’s just going to get a bit more expensive.
“The ‘running out of chocolate’ theme can reasonably be seen as spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt in an attempt to manipulate the market,” Clay Gordon, a chocolate consultant and author of the book Discover Chocolate, told mental_floss. “Do you have to worry about there not being chocolate anymore? The answer is no.”
But the narrative isn’t entirely contrived. Gordon says there are two very real pressures on the cocoa chain: climate change, which will likely cut supply, and increased demand for chocolate from new markets, like Asia. If you took economics 101, you know that when supply goes down and demand goes up, prices skyrocket. We’re already seeing this: Cocoa prices have climbed by more than 60 percent since 2012. Cheap, mass market chocolate candies, like Snickers and M&Ms, will be the hardest hit, Gordon says. “The current large producers of cocoa are at greater risks than smaller producers,” he says. Indeed, last year Hershey announced it was raising prices by 8 percent.
A 2011 study says climate change will start to really impact cocoa farmers by 2030, but goes on to say that “there will also be areas where suitability of cocoa increases,” so there’s that. The looming shortage is also sparking new innovations in cocoa production. Researchers are creating new breeds of cacao trees that are resistant to some disease and can produce seven times more beans.
(And that 60 percent price increase the Washington Post was worried about? That’s lower than the high reached in 2011. In 2012—which the Post used as a baseline—the price collapsed. A just-as-accurate headline would have read "cocoa prices have fallen 15 percent since 2011." And it’s still much lower than the all time cocoa high from 1977.)
Gordon says you can prepare for the price increase by switching from cheap chocolate to higher quality stuff, which may be a bit more pricey, but is unlikely to get any more expensive. “A lot of the higher-end chocolate is made from cocoa that’s purchased more directly and is also made from cocoa beans that are not traded on the market and are not subject to speculation,” he explains. Also, it tastes better.
Back in 2012, panic erupted among pork lovers when a global bacon “shortage” threatened to ruin breakfast. The source of the rumor was traced to a single press release from The National Pig Association (NPA) of the United Kingdom that used some pretty strong language, calling a global shortage of pork and bacon “unavoidable.” The story was picked up by CBS News, CNBC, and the Washington Post, among other outlets. But a bacon shortage there was not. Instead, as with chocolate, bacon simply became more expensive for a while.
The panic was tied to the 2012 drought that badly damaged the global corn supply. Pigs are raised on corn, “hence, the ‘bacon shortage’—actually a global increase in meat prices as a slightly delayed downstream consequence of the increase in corn prices,” as Matthew Yglesias at Slate explained. In 2013, panic spiked again after a virus killed millions of pigs, sending prices even higher. Indeed, the retail price of bacon hit a painful all-time high in the summer of 2014 of around $6 per pound.
But how quickly things change: Just a few months later, the price of pork dropped, with forecasters calling for an all-time high of 23.9 billion pounds to be produced in the U.S. in 2015. “It’s amazing,” John Nalivka, president of agriculture-advisory firm Sterling Marketing Inc., told the Wall Street Journal this January. “We’ve gone from ‘We’re going to run out of pork!’ to ‘What are we going to do with all of this meat?’”
Rumors of a tequila shortage have circulated since the early 2000s, when, following a surge in demand, prices skyrocketed and producers needed to start using lower quality product just to fill the gap. Because of the rise in consumption, farmers started planting more agave, the plant from which tequila is made. By 2005, there was so much agave available that the bottom fell out of the market, and many farmers abandoned their agave operations for a more lucrative crop: corn.
Many of the farmers who stuck with the tequila-producing plants saw their crop succumb to rot and had to burn large swaths of it around 2007 and 2008. Because the plants take so long to mature, it was rumored that a shortage of agave would only begin to impact the tequila market around 2013, but that never really happened—or at least not to any extreme degree. Because of the boom and bust cycles, large tequila brands have begun to take more care in monitoring their agave nurseries. In 2013, Bloomberg reported that Sauza Tequila had 15 million plants.
In the last few years, the demand for tequila has only continued to rise, seeing a 5 percent increase in U.S. sales volume last year. Producers have boosted their agave crop accordingly, and many of the large manufacturers are investing in research to turn production into a more efficient science. The downside, experts say, is this cheap mass market tequila is of low quality, the kind only suited for frozen margaritas out of a machine. Depending on your taste in tequila, that might be just fine.
Despite our love for chocolate, tequila, and bacon, they’re all things we could reasonably live without if we really had to. The Internet, on the other hand, is a necessity for modern living, which is what makes headlines like this one so scary. “It’s been a long time coming, but we’re finally going to run out of internet,” writes Darren Orf at Gizmodo, predicting “an internet crisis of biblical proportion.” The reality is much less click-baity and a little bit technical. Bear with me.
At the dawn of the modern Internet, each computer was given a different “internet protocol” (or IP) address. In the early '80s, the fourth version (IPv4) was standardized which gave a series of 32-bit numbers unique to each individual computer that identify your device to the Internet. “IP addresses are the Internet’s equivalent of telephone numbers,” explains Robert McMillan at the Wall Street Journal. In total, there are about 4.3 billion possible 32-bit IP numbers, and we’ve run out. But that doesn’t mean your internet is going to shut off. It probably won’t affect you at all, unless you’re a massive business hoping to expand your Internet footprint.
Some of the biggest Internet companies, including Google and Facebook, are in the process of switching over to a new Internet protocol system called IPv6 (IPv5 never made it out of the lab). As the WSJ explains, the new system “allows for a mind-boggling increase in addresses to 340 undecillion, or 340 followed by 36 zeroes, enough to assign an IP address to every gram of matter on Earth.” The transition will happen over a number of years and, with the exception of a few hiccups for people with outdated home routers or operating systems, consumers’ Internet access shouldn’t be interrupted.
Italian sparkling wine—a.k.a. Prosecco—is now more sought after than actual Champagne (at least in the UK). Despite its growing popularity, the beverage’s prices have remained about the same. So, earlier this year, Robert Cremonese, export manager of a Prosecco brand called Bisol, dropped a marketing bomb on bubbly imbibers. “Last year’s harvest was very poor,” he told an industry publication, “and down by up to 50 percent in some parts, so there is a very real possibility of a global shortage.”
The media responded accordingly, and people panicked. But the rising tide was short-lived. Stefano Zanette, President of the Prosecco DOC Consortium, a group “charged with protecting, upholding and promoting the standards of Prosecco,” released a statement debunking the scheme. “Despite the fact that the 2014 harvest was hit with some harsh weather,” he said, “the total certified production was up 17.9 percent as compared to the previous harvest.” Cheers!
Avocados are having a moment. Or rather, they’re having a decade. In 1999, Americans consumed a little more than a pound of the fruit per capita. Compare that to last year, where that number rose to 5.8 pounds per person. The problem: farming avocados requires a lot of water, about 72 gallons for a single pound of fruit. And California, where 80 percent of American-grown avocados are raised, is facing its fourth year of extreme drought. In April of this year, New York magazine asked, “Have You Eaten Your Last Avocado?” The short answer? No. In fact, the executive director of the Hass Avocado Board told QZ that in 2015, there would be more avocados available in the U.S. than any time in the last 10 years.
The long answer: California farmers are adapting to the unfortunate growing conditions, planting avocado trees in higher density and seeing good results. “We're producing twice as much fruit for a little bit less water,” one farmer told NPR. The California Avocado Commission expected the 2015 harvest to be up by 10 percent. But even if the Golden State’s harvest was low, 70 percent of the avocados Americans eat are imported from places like Chile and Peru. So, according to New York, “Avocados won’t disappear; they’ll just become a luxury item.”
Panic over a “limepocalypse” hit a fevered pitch last spring. But it wasn’t so much a shortage as it was a massive and short-lived price hike. The cost of limes increased by 400 percent, with cases going for more than $100 in the first part of last year. Low harvest numbers due to bad rainfall in Mexico, compounded by crop infestation, boosted cost. But the other problem was that many of Mexico’s lime regions were absorbed in a war between farmers and drug cartels. Prices quickly dropped with a crackdown on the cartel, and when the growing season got into full swing and production picked up. Here’s a headline from March of last year: "Soaring lime prices put squeeze on restaurants, food lovers." And less than two months later, in May: "Lime prices plummeting before Cinco de Mayo."
Somehow, Corona has become the 5th best-selling beer in the U.S. with consumption up 10 percent in the last five years. Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Constellation Brands, which owns Corona, is boosting its plant size to keep up with demand. It didn’t take long for the narrative to be twisted into fear-mongering headlines warning of an impending Corona shortage. The rumors caught the attention of Constellation Brands’ senior director of communications, Michael McGrew, who issued this statement: "There are some inaccurate reports coming out today stemming from a Wall Street Journal story that ran yesterday. To clarify, we DO NOT anticipate any Corona shortages. There is no merit to this rumor."