Monday, January 13, 2014

A Velveeta Shortage? How can this possibly be?

When I was a child, there wasn’t all that much to choose from, cheese-wise. At least in our house.

There was American, which was good for a sandwich – plain old cheese (grilled or not); as an add-on to the cold-cut grinders we had for Sunday night supper while watching Rocky & Bullwinkle, Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour, and College Bowl; and as part of a Gus Sandwich, concocted by me and my brother Tom, whose nickname was Gus. A Gus is made up of cheese, pickle (kosher dill), bacon (about as un-kosher as you can get), iceberg lettuce (serving its highest, and perhaps only, purpose), and mayo on white bread (original version) or – far better – pumpernickel. Cheddar is now the official cheese of choice, but the only cheddar that existed back in the day was on TV, where weird old farts had it as a side with apple pie. Everyone with any brains in their head had vanilla ice cream with apple pie. So even if cheddar had existed outside of TV, we wouldn’t have had it with pie, anyway.

There was also cream cheese, which was used in the dip served with Ritz crackers or Saltines when my parents entertained. The family canapé dip consisted of cream cheese mushed together with chopped up walnuts, maraschino cherries, and canned pineapple.

At this point in my life, I had never had a bagel. And I wouldn’t have known enough to put cream cheese on it even if I someone had handed me one and told me to eat it. The first time I had a bagel I was in college, and I had it grilled with butter.

“Chivecheese” was another regular cheese at our house. This was also used on crackers, and came in small lipless glass jars that turned into juice glasses when the chive cheese was consumed.

And then there was Velveeta.

I actually have no idea exactly what type of cheese Velveeta is. Only that it was orange, came in bricks, and was an alternative to American cheese slices for a grilled cheese sandwich. Velveeta was a staple of the family larder, and I remember my brother Tom (a.k.a. Gus) being a major fan.

Ah, Velveeta.

It’s probably been 50 years since I last ate any, and it’s one of those food products – like Spam and Lucky Charms – that I’m always amazed to find is still on the market.

But it is, and, with NFL playoff season upon us, we are currently experiencing a shortage. So even if I wanted to buy some, I probably couldn’t find it. (And since I shop at Whole Foods, I probably couldn’t have found it to begin with.)

Kraft Foods says some customers may not be able to find Velveeta cheese over the next few weeks. A representative for the company, Jody Moore, didn’t give any reasons for the apparent shortage, saying only that they happen from time to time given the ‘‘nature of manufacturing.’’

She noted that the lack of availability is more noticeable because of the seasonal demand during the NFL playoffs. The company has been airing TV commercials featuring a recipe for a chili con queso dip made with Velveeta. (Source: AP via

I don’t recall seeing that commercial, but perhaps I have been able to block it out in a way that I have not been successful in blocking out ads for Bob’s Discount Furniture and those touting remedies for something called Low T, which most certainly did not exist when I was a girl.

There were rumors that “cheesepocalypse” – as it has been dubbed by some in Twitter-ville – was craftily engineered by Kraft to boost interest and a run on sales, but it seems that it is, in fact, a legitimate shortage.

Part of the reason it’s in short supply is manufacturing process related; part may be due to heightened demand:

Euromonitor International estimates dollar sales of Velveeta cheese increased by 23.7 percent in the U.S. last year. (Source: Business Week.)

23.7% growth in the past year? What the Velveeta’s going on?

The Velveeta brand, which includes processed cheese as well as pasta and casserole meal kits, benefited last year from Kraft’s marketing spend on Velveeta Cheesy Skillets, said Virginia Lee, an analyst at the firm, in an e-mail.

This is, apparently, not the only Super Bowl-ish shortage that the poor, beleaguered American consumer has had to endure:

Last year the nation bit its proverbial nails over a possible lack of chicken wings, only to find no real problem. Back in 2009, San Francisco narrowly averted a citywide guacamole shortage.

And now Velveeta.

Cry the beloved Velveeta eating public!

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