Delicious food shortages perfect recipe for viral news

Stories about looming food shortages often go viral online. A social media expert says just like people love to pass around cookies, they also like to circulate stories about delicious food — even if there isn't any need to panic.

Social media expert says news about shortfalls perfect for sharing, but no cause for alarm

There's still plenty of butter on most store shelves. (Blair Sanderson/CBC)

We may love to share them — but stories about looming food shortages, from a scarcity of chocolate to an end to Twinkies, are often overblown, according to one expert.

For example, a recent CBC story about a potential butter shortage has been shared more than 13,000 times.

That makes it a viral hit, according to Jeff White. He's a social media expert and president of the web design and marketing firm Kula Partners.

Social media expert Jeff White says stories about food shortages are often overblown, because they're easily shared. (Courtesy of Kula Partners)

And he says just like people love to pass around cookies, they also like to circulate stories about delicious food.

"It's one of those stories that's interesting enough to draw attention, and it gives people something to talk about, something to share," he said.

And people don't have to worry about offending anyone when they share such stories, he said.

Butter shortage unlikely: supply chain management expert

But some of us may be reading too much into the headlines, Shawn Way said. He's president of the Supply Chain Management Association of Nova Scotia.

A product shortage simply indicates demand is outpacing supply. More often than not, ramping up production resolves the problem, Way said.

"Will we run out of butter? I hope not," said Way. "I would hope there's enough reserves to anticipate this type of demand increase."

The Canadian dairy industry estimates year-over-year demand for butter has gone up two to three per cent.

"In this situation, I don't see that as being catastrophic," said Way. 

The general manager of Dairy Farmers of Nova Scotia agrees. Brian Cameron said customers are not likely to see empty shelves.

Supply chain management expert Shawn Way says a shortage of butter in stores is unlikely. (Blair Sanderson/CBC)

But online, the story is often shared in the context of people worrying about running out of butter, particularly as the December holiday season nears, with its attendant shortbread baking.

The butter shortage story joins a long list of other predicted shortfalls that have made headlines over the past couple of years.

We've heard predictions of a dearth of Nutella, hot sauce, bacon, Twinkies, malted barley, cocoa, wine, pumpkins, Velveeta and bourbon. 

Way acknowledges some shortages are more serious than others.

"I'd be more concerned over a natural disaster rather than forecasting prediction," he said.

In West Africa, for example, disease, poor weather and political unrest have all had an impact on cocoa production. Over the past year, that has pushed up the price of cocoa.

And while that creates a headache for chocolate producers, for consumers, it translates into modest price increases.

About the Author

Blair Sanderson

Reporter

Blair Sanderson is a nationally syndicated current affairs reporter for CBC Radio. He's based in Halifax, where he's worked for 10 years.

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