These are not your average hoarders.
Purveyors of fine culinary goods are racing to stockpile European imports in anticipation of Trump administration tariffs that threaten to more than double the price of everything from French wines to Italian cheeses.
“We need to make sure we can get through the summer,” explained Jeff Zacharia of the thousands of extra cases of imported wines he‘s purchasing for Zachys, a third-generation wine shop in Scarsdale, NY, since the tariffs were threatened last month.
Among the wines he’s stockpiling is a Whispering Angel rosé from France that now costs $22 a bottle, but which could cost as much as $55 a bottle under the new tariffs, Zachery said. “People’s favorite rosés, Chianti Classicos and Pinot Grigios could all go up 150 percent for the consumer,” he explained.
If the 100-percent tariff increase hits, the days of affordable soft and creamy cheeses like Camembert and Brie may also be over, sources said. Instead, cheese lovers will be munching on hard cheeses because they can be bought in advance of the tariffs and stored for months.
“We started working with our distributors to stock up on cheeses with long shelf lives, like Parmesan and Manchego,” said an executive of a well-known Manhattan cheese shop who did not want to be identified. “We are stockpiling cheeses to build up our inventory.”
Purveyors of fine wines and cheeses, many of which come from Europe, have already been grappling with a 25 percent tax increase on $7.5 billion worth of goods that hit in October as payback for EU subsidies for Airbus that hurt Boeing. But the industry was thrown into a full-on panic in December thanks to the Trump administration’s threat to ratchet the tax to 100 percent on $25 billion worth of EU goods, including wine, cheese, meat, pasta and olive oil.
The new tariffs won’t just cost more, they could also eliminate loopholes that the industry has been relying on since October, such as no tariffs on Swiss and French cheeses — or on sparkling Italian wines.
James Coogan, chief buyer for Eli Zabar’s restaurants, shops and markets, had already been buying more Swiss cheeses, like Gruyère, after the first round of tariffs hit. With the second round looming, he sees American cheeses as another potential escape hatch.
“I don’t see myself with a tiny French cheese selection. I’ll have to see what the market could bear. I have bought in where I could. There are also great American cheeses out there. We already have a strong selection of those, but expanding them is another alternative.”
Also turning more to American goods is Jeremy Wladis, president of The Restaurant Group, which has 10 restaurants, including Good Enough to Eat, Harvest Kitchen and Brad’s Burgers & BBQ.
In the past few weeks, he’s swapped out a popular French Sancerre wine from the Loire valley with a Chardonnay from Monterey, California, he said.
“The Sancerre was going up in price and it was hard to get, so we replaced it with a California Chardonnay from Monterey,” Wladis explained.
In addition, Wladis’ restaurants have swapped out an Italian Grana Padano cheese — a hard crumbly cheese that is similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano — for a domestic Parmesan after the price on the Italian stuff skyrocketed 30 percent.
Wladis said he’s also considering a switch to California olive oil, depending on how the tariff war plays out. He currently buys his olive oil from Greece.
“We are also looking at shopping out European wines for domestic. But everything takes time, effort and money,” Wladis said, adding that higher prices means that people will have less wine, and that will also affect his staff. “It all makes a difference, impacting us and our teams’ ability to make a living,” he said.
It’s one reason the tariffs threaten to change the landscape of the US for years to come — even after the tariff war is settled, explained Chris Czerwinski, director of international policy for ACG Analytics, a public policy advisory firm in DC.
“Consumer preferences will slowly shift as we are forced to drink more Napa cabs. Eventually you will lose the runway. If tariffs are extended for a long period of time, we will lose relationships with European producers and the supply chain could be forever changed. It will take a long time for relationships to be repaired,” Czerwinski said.
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