Supply Chain Shortages Not Going Away Soon

By Sue Doerfler

The supply chain continues to be a hot topic in the news, sparked by tariffs and trade wars, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and most recently, the near week-long blockage of the Suez Canal by container ship Ever Given.

Supply chain has become a household phrase among consumers, who have experienced shortages of goods, parts and accessories due to lack of containers; Western port congestion and other shipping delays; factory and store pauses and closures; longer than normal lead times; and other disruptions.

At the beginning of the pandemic, a toilet paper shortage prevailed. Photos of empty grocery shelves — the household-goods aisles — dominated social media. Consumers were forced to choose off-brand and industrial toilet paper at unlikely outlets, like hardware and office-supply stores, as their favorite brands weren’t being manufactured due to factory shutdowns or were being hoarded by other consumers, among other reasons.

Bicycles and exercise equipment also have been in hot demand — and hard to find — as many people, heeding social-distancing recommendations, switched from going to the gym and began exercising at home and outdoors. Likewise, nesting at home increased the demand for home-improvement products, some of which had inventory challenges. And whiskey drinkers may have noticed a pandemic-induced issue: a lack of availability of the glass bottles used for whiskey. When it was unable to import the bottles by ship during the pandemic, Castle & Key Distillery resorted to airfreighting bottles from France.

The contents of Ever Given, which was stuck in the Suez Canal March 23-29, still haven’t reached consumers, although the ship’s containers may be transferred to other vessels. The incident also impacted the delivery of goods on other ships that were unable to pass through the canal while it was blocked.

So, what are the latest goods that are or potentially could be in short supply?

  • Toilet paper and coffee. Due to the Suez Canal blockage, these could be hard to find, with coffee more likely in Europe, as shipments of wood pulp and ingredients for instant coffee were impacted.
  • Garden gnomes. Homes in the United Kingdom and elsewhere may have longer waits for shipments of these personable statues, a popular home-improvement item during the pandemic, to arrive.
  • Plastics and other products. The winter storm in Texas in February resulted in blackouts and the closure of plastics plants, spurring a national shortage of materials used in making auto parts and computers, among other items.
  • Ketchup packets. The pandemic has caused many restaurants to ditch bottled ketchup in favor of packets.
  • Boba tea ingredients. The West Coast port congestion is contributing to a shortage of boba, the chewy tapioca-based ingredients in the eponymous tea. Availability of tapioca starch from Taiwan has reportedly been impacted.

About the Author

Sue Doerfler

About the Author

As Senior Writer for Inside Supply Management® magazine, I cover topics, trends and issues relating to supply chain management.