First was the toilet paper.
Then lumber, chicken wings and cream cheese.
And now tampons, Sriracha hot sauce and peanut butter are hard to come by. Shortages have been ongoing for more than two years after the pandemic, as manufacturers continue to grapple with disrupted supply chains, uneven consumer demand and unpredictable weather conditions.
“When you get all these changes in demand and delays because of COVID, it becomes difficult to rebuild your supply chain,” said John Taylor, professor of global supply chain management at Wayne State University.
Related: Seeing empty supermarket shelves again? Here’s why.
Michigan shoppers have seen sporadic empty supermarket shelves since March 2020. But a recent survey by Retail Insight found that 71% of US consumers think shortages are worse now than in the early days of pandemic panic shopping.
Here’s why some items can be hard to find these days:
Where are all the tampons?
Tampons are the latest victim of a supply chain crisis that has plagued manufacturers for two years.
Sterile shelves now welcome customers looking for menstrual products with a Twitter user documenting the scarcity saying, “the shortage of tampons has reached northern Michigan.” First reported by Time, this shortage is the latest blow to women after a shuttered Abbott factory led to an infant formula crisis.
A Walgreens spokesperson confirmed that there is a shortage of “brand-specific” sanitary pads in certain parts of the country. While CVS retail communications manager Matt Blanchette said that suppliers have been unable to “fulfill full order quantities” in recent weeks.
Lack of raw materials like cotton and plastic are allegedly responsible for production problems.
Related: Free sanitary pads program expanding to all public restrooms at University of Michigan
Procter & Gamble, the $366 billion company behind Tampax and Always products, cited challenges such as “commodity and raw material prices and labor, transportation, energy, pension and health costs” on an earnings call. Of april.
“There is a problem with the supply of raw materials,” said David Closs, a professor of supply chain management at Michigan State University. “I think the biggest thing is work.”
At Helping Women Period, a Michigan nonprofit that provides menstrual products to homeless or low-income people, Executive Director Lynse Tait has noticed recent delays when ordering in bulk. Tait said a May 1 order didn’t arrive until mid-June, when it usually takes about two weeks.
“In 2021, we received 3,000 tampons as in-kind donations during the month of May. And this year, we only received 2,000,” she said. “So people aren’t buying to donate either.”
Shortages like this are often exacerbated by hoarding.
Taylor says these “wild fluctuations” create a bullwhip effect, where sudden demand drives suppliers to ramp up production.
“If you’re out of stock because the COVID pandemic has delayed shipments, now these retailers are out of stock,” Taylor said. “They are clamoring for more and more and more, so you increase your production more. It takes a couple of months to get up to speed and get the raw materials to make the tampons, and suddenly customers don’t really need it.”
Related: Michigan no longer has a ‘pad tax’ on menstrual products
Shortages combined with inflation have also pushed up the price of menstrual products, with tampons costing nearly 10% more and tampons 8.3% higher than last year, according to Bloomberg.
Tait says limited supply and higher costs affect people’s health and the economy.
“People use things they shouldn’t use if they don’t have the product they need, so they use socks, T-shirts, paper towels, toilet paper,” she said. “Or they just miss school or work because they are at home.”
This shortage, however, can raise awareness of reusable products such as menstrual cups and menstrual underwear.
“Maybe this will help push people over the edge a little bit,” Tait said.
RIP for a hot Sriracha summer
Sriracha fans may be struggling to stock up this summer.
Hoy Fong Foods, the company that makes the hot sauce with a cult following, has confirmed an “unprecedented shortage” of its chili products. This will affect the production of Chili Garlic, Sambal Oelek and Sriracha Hot Chili sauces.
“We are still struggling to resolve this issue that was caused by several spiraling events, including the unexpected crop failure of the spring pepper crop,” Huy Fong Foods said in a statement.
Huy Fong Foods sources its chilis from Mexico, according to NBC News, which is currently experiencing historic droughts.
“It’s related to a number of things,” Closs said. “One of them is the shortage of raw materials, packaging and food ingredients that go into the hot sauce”
An April memo from Huy Fong Foods to distributors said orders will be on hold until September.
“We look forward to a fruitful fall season and thank our customers for their patience and continued support during this difficult time,” the company said.
Peanut butter is in a jelly
Peanut butter is also hard to come by these days. But this shortage is not related to supply chains.
Nearly 50 types of creamy, crunchy, natural Jif peanut butter were recalled in late May by JM Smucker Co. due to potential contamination by Salmonella. Sixteen diseases in a dozen states have been linked to the recall, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.
While the recall only affects Jif products, photos on social media show empty shelves as shoppers devour other brands of peanut butter.
“They just assume there will be shortages when the nature of the demand isn’t there,” Closs said.
Despite the shortage, some retailers also have a lot of product
While there have been intermittent product shortages over the past couple of years, retailers are currently dealing with another problem: overstocking.
“Within the supply chain it’s always difficult when demand changes to find out what’s really going on because you tend to overdo it,” Taylor said.
Retailers, trying to meet shoppers’ demand with stimulus money in hand, stocked up on products like patio furniture. But supply chain problems and shipping delays left them with too much inventory when demand shifted.
Related: Toilet paper wasn’t the only shortage caused by the pandemic. Here’s What Affected Michigan’s People
Target plans to cut prices to eliminate “overstocking,” the national retailer announced in early June. Walmart, on a recent earnings call, noted that inventory has increased 33% as customer demand shifts under the pressure of inflation – shoppers are spending more on food and less on merchandise in general.
Taylor says it may take a while, even heading into 2023, for the whip to subside.
“Consumers can expect things to slowly improve. But it will take months and probably the rest of the year – if we don’t have any more variants or major stoppages – it will take the rest of the year to sort it all out,” he said.
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