ST. LOUIS — It’s the holiday supply shortage story Dale Schotte didn’t expect to be telling, standing in the production facility of Park Avenue Coffee.
“We'll buy local if it's available through suppliers, couldn't find it there. We went to the big box stores, we couldn't find it there,” he said.
The owner of the coffee shop and roaster, bakery, and supplier was on the hunt for peppermint, a key ingredient in many of their holiday drinks and baked goods, like the peppermint-bark version of their famous gooey butter cake.
“I mean, we order peppermint in November. We always order peppermint in November and it always comes in, you know, the first week in December, we're good to go,” he said. “Not this year.”
It turns out, peppermint flavoring and candies—like candy canes—are another example of items that could be more difficult to find after their production came to a halt due to the pandemic, and are now flying off the shelves.
“It's a supply and demand, right? There's a finite amount available,” said Tamara Keefe, owner of Clementine’ Naughty and Nice Creamery. Before creating what Oprah Winfrey once called “sexiest ice cream alive,” Keefe had a high-powered career in the food industry, where she learned a lot about supply chain woes that are now exacerbated in 2021.
“Just because the world opened up again, that doesn't mean that all of the raw ingredients and all the supply chain and everything had ingredients, things ready to go,” she said. “We’re going to be seeing these shortages actually going into 2022, 2023 as people are just now getting caught up on production.”
It’s why Clementine’s plans a flavor calendar months in advance—and she began ordering her peppermint in the spring. The foresight became especially important with her current featured flavor, “Peppermint Andy:” a collaboration with St. Louis native and television personality Andy Cohen to raise money for local nonprofit DOORWAYS, which provides housing and support services for people who are affected by HIV/AIDS.
“Had we not planned ahead, we would have been stuck with this amazing, great selling flavor that's donating lots of money to Doorways with no ability to make it," said Keefe.
What about peppermint candies for our own recipes, or candy canes for the holiday season? Conversations on neighborhood message boards indicate some people are having a harder time finding traditional candy canes at stores where they'd normally find them in abundance, suggesting it's a good idea to follow retail experts' advice to buy early in this department, too.
Grocery store chain Schnucks told 5 On Your Side via email that customers shouldn't notice much of a difference at their stores.
"Schnucks saw limited cuts from select vendors on our holiday candy cane order, but our customers should currently be able to find them in our stores. We are in good supply of peppermint extract in our baking section. Cost increases are in line with current inflation."
Schotte wound up buying his winter supply of peppermint from an online retailer, but was prepared for the shipment to take weeks given the other delays and supply chain issues gumming up the systems these days. It was like Christmas came early when the boxes arrived at Park Avenue headquarters Friday morning.
“I feel like I won the lottery,” he said.
While the flavor is good for business these days, he says it’s also a taste of the normalcy so many are craving this time of year.
“Things are so weird right now with, you know, you go every place, you go, Oh, we don't have that or, oh no, that's not in stock,” he said. “Just to be able to get it and not have one thing that we don't have to not have this year, it would be nice.”
“It's nice to have those traditions, to have those creature comforts, whatever you want to call it,” he added. “It's the little things sometimes that make a big difference.”
Keefe, fondly recalling picking candy canes off the Christmas Tree at her grandparents’ home as a child, agrees.
“Peppermint is just such a part of the holiday tradition. It wouldn't be home without it.”