It’s been said there’s no place like home for the holidays. And it’s also been said that “There’s a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy, when they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie.” While that may be true, this year, there might not be any ready-made aerosol whipped cream for that pumpkin pie--or any other pie or baking needs. It’s what some people have termed a “Whippocalypse.”


Actually, the issue is a supply chain disruption. Last August, there was an explosion with a fatality at a Florida chemical plant belonging to Airgas, which says it’s North America’s largest nitrous oxide producer. Two gas tankers, as well as a nitrous oxide holding tank, exploded at a loading dock, which dramatically cut nitrous oxide production. Interestingly, nitrous oxide—more commonly called “laughing gas” and used as an inhalation anesthetic to relax people and ease pain during dental procedures—acts as a propellant to get whipped cream out of the can and also as a preservative to keep it from going rancid.


“The timing is really unfortunate,” Stephanie McVaugh, vice president of Natural Dairy Products Corp., the maker of Natural by Nature whipped cream, says in a Reuters article. Demand usually picks up in November as the holidays approach, she said, but the company produced its first run of whipped cream only last week after having none for a “couple of months.”


The shortage effects all brands. Lanie Friedman, a spokeswoman for ConAgra, the food manufacturer that makes Reddi-wip, said the company is “doing the best we can to make it [Reddi-wip] available to as many people as possible.” A full supply should be on-hand by February, she said. Reddi-wip is the leading aerosol whipped topping, according to sales data from market research firm IRI.


Airgas, which distributes gas for industrial and medical purposes, said in a statement it’s making “all possible efforts to remedy the situation as quickly as possible.” The company added, however, that when it comes to supplying the gas, its medical contracts take priority over its food manufacturing contracts until supplies have stabilized.


As an article in The Washington Post points out, the whipped cream shortage casts a focus on one of the industrial food system’s core weaknesses. That is, an increasing concentration of power among a few companies, in a few areas. What’s more, it often involves only a few plants.


“It’s very concerning how vulnerable we’re making our food system to weather, fuel shortages, accidents, strikes and foodborne illnesses,” Philip Howard, a sociologist at Michigan State University who studies consolidation in the food system, says in The Post article. “There are many variables that make it possible that the food on our grocery shelves this week won’t be there the week after.”


In the meantime, some wags on food websites have noted that “It’s only a whipped cream shortage if you don’t eat real whipped cream.” Indeed, whipped cream is relatively easy to make. It may not be as convenient, but making whipped cream at home does solve the shortage problem.


What are your thoughts? Have you noticed a whipped cream shortage? More importantly, what are your thoughts on possible disruptions to food manufacturing supply chains?