Did Coronavirus Cause a Dr Pepper Shortage?

The COVID-19 pandemic slowed the production of a number of food and beverage products in 2020.

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Image via Cyclonebill/Flickr

Claim

Coronavirus has resulted in a U.S. shortage of some Dr Pepper flavors.

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Reported shortages of Dr Pepper soda flavors across the U.S. in the spring and summer of 2020 sparked Snopes readers to question whether limited local soda stocks were the lingering result of coronavirus-disrupted production chains, or of people hoarding the carbonated soft drink.

Snopes is unable to determine whether this claim is true — whether the drinks are (or were) in short supply and, if so, whether that’s due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. But a number of Reddit users reported that they saw local shortages of diet Dr Pepper cream soda and cherry flavors in their areas, from New England to Northern California. The initial comment was posted in April 2020 on r/DrPepper and read:

Out of all of the sodas and soft drinks out there, Dr Pepper is the one that is constantly out of stock in my area. More specifically, the Dr Pepper + Cream Soda. I haven’t been able to find it in my local grocery stores for the past few days. I will be pissed if everyone is hoarding it like toilet paper and milk. STOP HOARDING MY DR PEPPER!!!!! That should fix the problem…

Some users speculated that people may be “hoarding” the bubbly beverage in the same way that many stocked up on toilet paper earlier in the year. Snopes reached out to Dr Pepper to confirm whether the company was experiencing a production shortage but received no response at the time of publication. We will update this article with any new information we receive.

Other commenters on the reddit thread added that they had spoken with their local distributors and were told that sparse shelves in soda isles were the result of an aluminum shortage that has limited the manufacturing of beverage cans. If that is the case, Dr Pepper joins the list of other food and beverage products affected by the coronavirus-burdened, global-production chain. Snopes spoke with the Aluminum Association, which confirmed an aluminum shortage occurred in the earlier part of 2020 due to “unprecedented demand” during the COVID-19 pandemic and a global consumer shift away from plastic bottles, but that there was an “uptick” of can shipments in May and June.

“Many new beverages are coming to market in cans and other long-standing can customers are moving away from plastic bottles due to ongoing environmental concerns around plastic pollution. Consumers also appear to be favoring the portability and storability of cans as they spend more time at home,” wrote the organization in an email.

Aluminum isn’t the only contribution to the decline of soda supply. In April 2020, the Compressed Gas Association submitted a letter to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence “expressing strong concern that the current coronavirus pandemic create[d] a significant risk of shortage in carbon dioxide (CO2).” The letter added that CO2 is used to make bubbles in soda and is “critical” for beverage manufacturers. CO2 is created as a byproduct of ethanol production; the organization explained that demand for the chemical has been reduced amid the coronavirus pandemic

A lag in an already disrupted production chain may have also contributed to reported Dr Pepper shortages across the U.S. In February 2020, Coca Cola expressed concern over “delays in the production and export” of ingredients sourced from China, including non-nutritive sweeteners.

“As a result of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, beginning in January 2020, our suppliers in China have experienced some delays in the production and export of these ingredients. We have initiated contingency supply plans and do not foresee a short-term impact due to these delays,” wrote the company in its annual report. “However, we may see tighter supplies of some of these ingredients in the longer term should production or export operations in China deteriorate.

Dr Pepper is one of more than 125 hot and cold beverages produced by Keurig Dr Pepper, a beverage company that formed in 2018 when Keurig Green Mountain and Dr Pepper Snapple Group merged. In an issued statement responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company said that it is “working hard to keep operations running smoothly” and “finding innovative ways to … adapt to channel shifts as more and more people stay home during this pandemic.”

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Sources

 “Industry Coalition Sends Letter to U.S. Vice President Warning of Risk of Carbon Dioxide Shortage.”
    Compressed Gas Association.   7 April 2020.  

  “Annual Report Pursuant to Section 13 and 15(d).”
    The Coca Cola Company.   24 Feb 2020.  

Biron, Bethany.   “Coca-Cola Says the Coronavirus Could Cause Coke Shortages Because of ‘Tighter Supplies’ of Artificial Sweeteners Sourced from China.”
    Business Insider.   26 Feb 2020.  

Wallace, Alicia.   “Coca-Cola Could Be in Tight Supply of Artificial Sweetener For Diet and Zero-Sugar Drinks Because of Coronavirus.”
    CNN Business.   28 Feb 2020  

Wallace, Alicia.   “Why America is Running Out of Aluminum Cans.”
    CNN Business.   22 July 2020.