COVID-19 is making pepperoni disappear

Grab some pepperoni pizza while you still can.
Grab some pepperoni pizza while you still can.
Photo: Aimee Levitt

Over the past few months we’ve written about COVID-related food shortages many times, and one of the most consistent connections between those stories is that manufacturers are scaling down production. Now, that same problem is impacting one of America’s most beloved and ubiquitous foods: pepperoni.

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According to Bloomberg, pepperoni is becoming increasingly hard to purchase. This is because 1) in the face of economic collapse and still-rampant infection, people are ordering more pizzas; 2) wholesale prices are rising, and; 3) production of pepperoni is decreasing, due to both labor shortages and companies deciding that making pepperoni simply isn’t worth the bother. As reported by Bloomberg, “Barry Friends, a partner at foodservice consultant Pentallect, said the ingredient’s labor-intensive process and low profit margins have made some producers say ‘screw it’ as they streamline operations amid the coronavirus.”

Adding insult to injury, the rising cost of pepperoni also has the potential to harm mom-and-pop pizzerias far more than larger chains. While smaller pizzerias buy their ingredients from wholesalers as needed, chains such as Domino’s, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, and Little Caesars buy ingredients in such incredible volumes that their prices are pre-negotiated, and goods are purchased using standing longterm contracts. This means that these chains are (at least for now) essentially immune to pepperoni price increases, and that’s definitely not the case for smaller businesses, which are reporting increased prices all across the U.S.

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Bloomberg’s reporting does not touch on what price increases and production shortages mean for pepperoni sold through grocery stores, and also doesn’t state whether these shortages are limited to U.S. facilities or also happening in factories making pepperoni overseas. What it does report, though, is that smaller pizzerias are either raising prices or being forced to eat the loss so that their customers aren’t directly impacted. So, if you see the price of pepperoni pizza go up at your favorite independently owned pizzeria, try not to be too grumpy about it, as it likely wasn’t something the pizzeria wanted to do.

Jacob Dean is a food and travel writer and psychologist based in New York. He likes beer, less traveled airports, and is allergic to grasshoppers (the insect, not the mixed drink.)

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What kind of monster would slice the pizza in the picture like that?