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Hot Pockets in short supply at AAFES, commissaries because of coronavirus

Hot Pockets in a cooler case at an AAFES Express store on Kleber Kaserne in Kaiserslautern, Germany, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020.

CHAD GARLAND/STARS AND STRIPES

By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 2, 2020

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A snacking staple in many U.S. military barracks could be in short supply into next year as Hot Pockets fall victim to coronavirus supply chain issues.

Nestle, which makes the microwavable meat- and cheese-filled crusts that many Americans turned to during pandemic-related lockdowns, told the Army and Air Force Exchange Service and other retailers that it will have “severe inventory constraints” in its Hot Pockets product lines because of the global outbreak, AAFES spokeswoman Julie Mitchell said.

Limited quantities will be available, but will be strictly controlled, she said.

“As a result, Exchange customers may expect to see shortages of Hot Pockets to continue into 2021,” she said.

The Defense Commissary Agency was told it won’t be getting some varieties of the popular snacks, including Lean Pockets, said DeCA spokesman Kevin L. Robinson. But it’s stocking alternative Hot Pockets flavors and a similar product by Del Monte, made with cauliflower crusts and without meat.

Several factors have caused short-term changes in availability for some products, including the stromboli-like “sandwiches” whose insides become molten after two minutes in the microwave, Nestle USA spokeswoman Lauren Rubbo said.

“So hot we burned out a little,” the Hot Pockets brand said Wednesday on Twitter, acknowledging the shortages. “We know you’re missing your favorites, and we want to let you know they’ll be back in the future — we’re focusing on the classics now so you can still enjoy us.” The tweet didn’t specify which classics would remain available.

In the early months of the pandemic, as the virus spread and restrictions went into place, Hot Pockets were among the comfort brands filling many American shoppers’ carts, Bloomberg News reported in April.

Demand for the frozen dough pouches helped boost Nestle to its largest quarterly sales growth in five years, Bloomberg reported. Company officials attributed that partly to Americans stockpiling food and eating more meals at home.

Sales of Hot Pockets and other Nestle frozen food brands continued to rise through the second quarter, reaching double-digit percentage growth this summer, officials said in a call with investors in July.

However, challenges brought on by continuing uncertainty and the need to keep workers and facilities safe led Nestle to adapt operations to the evolving pandemic, Rubbo said.

Military exchanges are expected to continue receiving products but at “adjusted levels,” she said.

“I’m also happy to report that our Hot Pocket situation is improving,” she said. “We are hopeful to be fully back on shelves in the early New Year.”

garland.chad@stripes.com
Twitter: @chadgarland