Insights & Advice

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Supply chain chaos

Americans are used to purchasing products, either on credit or cash, and having them delivered within a week, at the latest. Repairing those products (such as appliances) may take a little longer but not by much. The pandemic has changed all that.

Now, I am not talking about empty shelves instead of toilet paper. That was last year’s problem. No, it’s about things like accessories, parts, and even some large appliances. Take my nine-year-old refrigerator, for example. The water dispenser on the outside door doesn’t work. This has been going on for a year and the part needed to fix the problem is “on back order.”

Then there are my broken fans inside my gas fireplace.  The fans gave up the ghost just in time for winter. Ordering the parts was easy, but here it is in March and maybe, just maybe, the fans will be delivered and installed by this summer.

And then there is the mystifying disappearance of one of my cooking staples, minced garlic. For years, it was a ubiquitous purchase that I rarely thought about until suddenly it was no longer in its usual place above the potatoes and loose onions. The vegetable department said they were out of stock and were uncertain when, or if, they would be getting any more of it. I searched several more supermarkets before I found a few small jars hidden away in a corner.

These are just a few personal examples. The coronavirus has upended the world’s supply chains in ways that we rarely think about. The pandemic forced certain changes in our habits. Many of us stayed at home. Few outlets existed to spend money, so we stayed at home. Instead of restaurants, we had to learn to cook. That meant stocking up on food and the freezers and refrigerators in which to hold it.  We didn’t need dry cleaners because we are all wearing sweats, but we do need washers and dryers.

At the same time that demand for these appliances spiked higher, the factories in countries that produced them were forced to scale back or shut down production entirely as the coronavirus decimated their workforce. This has created shortages depending on the supply chain of who makes the individual parts that together comprise so many appliances.

The facts are that certain important parts, items such as magnetron tubes for microwaves, compressors for refrigerators and freezers, for example, are made by a mere handful of overseas manufacturers. Most of these companies are in Asia.

Some of the product categories that have been really hurt by supply chain disruption might surprise you. The FDA is monitoring certain medicines and prescription drugs, especially some generic brands, since certain ingredients are manufactured in China and India. A number of consumer electronic products, solar panels, auto parts, air conditioners, toys and games, vaping devices, and tee shirts and socks just to name a few.

As for my beloved minced garlic, 70% of the garlic consumed in the U.S. is imported from China. Prices have risen by more than 30% since the pandemic began, so I’m guessing that minced garlic is getting too valuable to simply mince and stuff  into a jar. To tell the truth, I am finding that while convenient, the canned flavor lacks the pungency of mincing garlic myself. I guess that might qualify as a silver lining in the present supply chain chaos.

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