Some are calling it the most important news story in the US right now. Thanks to a cyber attack that crippled Schreiber Foods, the largest cream cheese manufacturer in the US, for a few days back in October (thanks, Putin), the US is now struggling with a shortage of schmear, which is particularly troubling for New Yorkers, who are known to enjoy a toasted bagel with a hefty serving of the stuff (perhaps along with some lox and capers).
Without a reliable source of cream cheese, millions of bagel-loving Big Apple residents are probably contemplating consuming their favorite breakfast with butter and jam, like an Englishman.
What's worse, the hackers who carried out the attack on Schreiber knew enough to time the shut down to coincide with the busiest season for cream cheese demand. During the holidays, Americans use cream cheese to bake cakes and treats, and new holiday flavors like Pumpkin Spice cream cheese (yeah, that's a real thing) go flying off the shelves. And October is the last month for companies like Schreiber (which has few rivals) to ensure they have enough stock to last the season.
Since cream cheese is made fresh, there are no reserves to draw from. According to Bloomberg, it's just one more example of how (presumably Russian-backed) hackers have contributed to the chaos afflicting the American food supply, as well as the supply of certain foodstuffs around the world.
This in turn contributes to the inflationary pressures plaguing the US, where - according to Friday's landmark CPI report - prices are rising at 6.8% YoY, their fastest pace since 1982.
Schreiber isn't the only food-related company to be targeted by hackers: they also targeted meat giant JBS and an Iowa grain cooperative this year.
According to Andrew Novakovic, an agricultural economist at Cornell University, cream cheese is "particularly vulnerable" to supply chain issues. Some manufacturers have had problems sourcing starch, a thickening agent, as well as packaging like plastic film and cardboard boxes.
Additionally, labor shortages such as a shortage of truck drivers is hitting the dairy industry particularly hard because drivers need an extra license to pick up milk from farms.
Yet another example of how the US's own bureaucratic red tape is helping to exacerbate the labor shortage.