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The supply chain is still struggling to meet demand.
The height of the Covid-19 pandemic is a few months past, but the twists and turns in the supply chain have yet to unfold. Many industries face a mismatch of production capabilities and demand; rampant inflation isn’t helping either.
As a result, consumers are running short of products from paper to medication — and these shortages can have a detrimental effect on everyday life.
And while some experts hope the supply chain can reach more “normal” levels next year, others caution against being too optimistic.
5 Items currently facing a shortage
One of the most basic products is now experiencing a shortage.
When the Covid pandemic hit, life was forced indoors and online. The demand for paper increased, as did its American production in response. Many paper mills have turned to packaging and board production during the pandemic to keep up with newfound reliance on online shopping, leading to a nearly 20% reduction in production capacity as of 2019, according to commentary by ERA Forest Products Research in the Seattle Times .
But once the restrictions eased, demand for paper products increased — and mills struggled to return to pre-pandemic production levels. Many of the mills that switched to packaging cannot easily return to paper production.
Adding fuel to the fire is rising inflation, which makes it more expensive to make paper. Raw material costs to produce paper have risen dramatically, pushing the price of paper up as much as 60%, according to Business Insider.
How to handle: If you’re a business owner looking for a specific type of paper for marketing materials or supplies, ask your local printer or paper supplier what other options are available. If you occasionally buy paper to fill your printer at home, you may see an increase in price. Consider switching to a cheaper brand, if available. If you’re someone who buys paper online, keep in mind that many e-commerce brands use real-time dynamic pricing, which results in constantly shifting prices. Use price tracking programs, such as CamelCamelCamel or Shopify, to determine if you click the buy button during a price spike.
The US stockpile of diesel and gasoline is currently suffering from a limited supply, according to CBS News. Numerous factors are contributing to the inventory squeeze, including the war in Ukraine, refinery shutdowns, natural disasters and an explosion at a Philadelphia refinery.
You may have heard that the US only has 25 days of diesel left. But that doesn’t mean the country is going to run out completely; analysts point out that’s far from the case. This alarmist number is only likely if every oil refinery in the country were to close at once, which analysts say is out of the question.
How to handle: The best way to manage the current diesel shortage is to resist panic buying; collectively, panic buying can further deplete a dwindling supply. The deficit may decrease once demand cools, but exactly when that might be is difficult to determine.
3. Certain prescription drugs
Drug manufacturers have trouble keeping up with demand. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some commonly used medicines are currently experiencing shortages, causing a lot of stress for patients and medical staff:
- Albuterol Sulfate Inhalation Solution: Used to treat symptoms of asthma, emphysema and other respiratory conditions.
- Amoxicillin: This antibiotic is used to treat a variety of bacterial infections, including RSV, a respiratory disease that is currently on the rise.
- Adderall: Compounds used to make Adderall, a drug used to manage ADHD symptoms, are experiencing shortages.
- Epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen): This medication is used to treat severe anaphylactic allergic reactions.
How to handle: In some cases, the unexpected discontinuation of a prescribed medication can lead to adverse health effects. Adderall, for example, is a stimulant — meaning patients can experience harsh withdrawals if they stop cold turkey. If a medication you rely on is in short supply, discuss with your doctor or pharmacist whether any appropriate substitutions are available for your prescriptions.
4. Baby Formula
Despite efforts by the federal government, the country is still grappling with an infant formula shortage.
The shortage was caused by the temporary shutdown of a key formula plant in Michigan after contamination of some products caused bacterial infections in four babies – two of whom died. The discovery also led to the recall of some formula made at the same plant, exacerbating an already strained inventory.
The Biden administration invoked the Defense Production Act to speed up the production of formula. Despite this, government officials said as recently as early November that “of course there is still a problem” getting baby formula on shelves and that it will take time for the shortage to ease.
How to handle: Since every baby’s needs are different and every family has different resources, there is no general answer for how parents can deal with the formula shortage. The Department of Health and Human Services says that most babies will “do just fine” with different brands of formula, as long as they are made from the same base.
Forbes Health has an extensive guide to safely navigating the infant formula shortage, as well as a guide to changing a baby’s formula.
We don’t have an official butter shortage yet. But experts warn that butter supplies are dwindling ahead of the busy baking and cooking holiday season.
The biggest culprit threatening the butter supply is the production of milk, the main ingredient of butter. The number of dairy cows decreased as it became more expensive to raise and keep them.
US butter production has trended downward this year, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
A smaller supply, and continued consumer demand, have driven the cost of butter up nearly 27% year-over-year, according to the most recent Consumer Price Index report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average price for a pound of butter was $3.14 for the week ending October 29; around the same time last year it was under $2.
How to handle: The worst move consumers can make is to panic buy butter. Since supplies are low—but not an official shortage—collective panic buying can lead to an actual shortage. If you find yourself in a pinch without butter for baking, there are substitutes that can work in some recipes, including pumpkin puree and applesauce.
For other uses, there are vegan butter alternatives like Earth Balance and Miyoko’s, which taste similar to real butter and aren’t like the plastic margarine alternatives of years past. Most stores also carry imported butter brands such as Kerrygold, although they usually carry a premium price tag.
Are shortages the new normal?
Ongoing shortages can leave consumers wondering if these supply cuts are the new normal. But experts see a light at the end of the supply chain tunnel.
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic brought severe turmoil to supply chains as lockdown measures limited production. The global supply chain is so interconnected that those knots still take time to unravel.
When the shutdowns eased, demand for many products rose exponentially, but supplies struggled to keep up. The war in Ukraine further exacerbates these issues by shrinking many commodities used in the production process, including oil.
This perfect storm of misfortune causes the supply chain to recover at a snail’s pace—but it recovers. Data from the New York Fed’s Global Supply Chain Pressure Index suggests that pressure is beginning to return to pre-Covid levels.
Supply chain disruptions are expected to return to “normal” in 2023, as reported by Bloomberg, although that recovery will vary by industry and region.
For now, consumers should expect shortages to remain a part of daily life for the foreseeable future.