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The supply chain is still struggling to meet demand.
The peak of the Covid-19 pandemic has been in the past several months but the links in the supply chain have not yet been identified. There is a mismatch between production capacity and demand in many industries; rampant inflation isn’t helping, either.
As a result, consumers are faced with shortages of products from paper to medicines – and these shortages can have a detrimental impact on everyday life.
And while some experts are optimistic that the supply chain could reach more “normal” levels next year, others are warning against getting too optimistic.
5 Items That Are Presently Shortages
One of the most basic products now is scarcity.
When the Covid pandemic hit, life was forced indoors – and online. The demand for paper tanked, as did the US in response. Many paper mills have scrambled during the pandemic to produce packaging and cardboard to keep up with the new reliance on online shopping, resulting in a nearly 20% reduction in production capacity from 2019, according to commentary from ERA Forest Products Research in the Seattle Times.
But once the lockdowns eased, demand for paper products skyrocketed — and mills struggled to get back to pre-pandemic production levels. Many of the mills that switched to packaging cannot easily return to paper production.
Rising inflation adds fuel to the fire, making it more expensive to make paper. The costs of producing paper raw materials have skyrocketed, pushing the price of paper up as much as 60%, according to Business Insider.
How to deal: If you are a business owner looking for a specific type of paper for marketing or inventory materials, ask your local printing company or paper supplier what other options are available. If you buy paper from time to time to fill your printer at home, you may notice a large increase in price. Consider switching to a cheaper brand, if available. If you are someone who buys paper online, keep in mind that many e-commerce brands use real-time dynamic pricing, which causes prices to change constantly. Use price tracking apps, like CamelCamelCamel or Shopify, to see if you’re clicking the buy button during a price peak.
US diesel and gasoline inventories are currently suffering from tight supply, according to CBS News. Numerous factors add to the pressure on supply, including the war in Ukraine, refinery shutdowns, natural disasters and an explosion at the Philadelphia refinery.
You may have heard that the US only has 25 diesel days left. But that does not mean that the country is about to give up completely; analysts point out that is far from the case. This alarming number is only likely if all oil refineries in the country were to be shut down immediately, which analysts say is out of the question.
How to deal: The best way to manage the current diesel shortage is panic buying; in combination, panic buying could further deplete dwindling supply. The shortage could diminish as soon as the demand picks up, but it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when that might be.
3. Certain Prescription Drugs
Drug manufacturers are having problems keeping up with demand. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a number of commonly used medications are currently in short supply, causing a lot of stress for patients and medical staff:
- Albuterol Sulfate Inhalation Solution: It is used to treat the symptoms of asthma, emphysema and other breathing conditions.
- Amoxicillin: This antibiotic is used to treat a variety of bacterial infections, including RSV, a respiratory illness that is currently on the rise.
- Adderall: There is a shortage of compounds used to make Adderall, a drug used to manage ADHD symptoms.
- Epinephrine Auto-Injector (EpiPen): This medication is used to treat severe anaphylactic allergic reactions.
How to deal: In some cases, stopping a prescribed medication unexpectedly can lead to adverse health effects. Adderall, for example, is a stimulant – meaning patients can experience severe withdrawals if they stop cold-turkey. If a medication you rely on is in short supply, discuss with your doctor or pharmacist whether there is any relevant substitute available for your prescription.
4. Baby Formula
Despite efforts by the federal government, the country continues to grapple with a shortage of baby formula.
The shortage was caused by the temporary shutdown of a major formula plant in Michigan after contamination in some products caused bacterial infections in four infants – two of whom died. The discovery also led to the recall of some formula made at the same plant, adding to an already strained supply.
The Biden administration called for the Defense Production Act to speed up formula production. Despite this, government officials have said in early November that “there is clearly still a problem” in getting infant formula on the shelves and that it will take time to alleviate the shortage.
How to deal: Since every child’s needs are different and every family has different resources, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how parents can deal with the formula shortage. The Department of Health and Human Services says that most babies will do 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 a shortage of baby formula, as well as a guide to changing infant formula.
We’re not in an official butter shortage—yet. But experts are warning that butter supplies are dwindling ahead of the busy holiday baking and cooking season.
The main culprit threatening the butter supply is the production of milk, the main ingredient of butter. The number of dairy cows has declined because it is more expensive to raise and keep them.
As a result, there is a downward trend in US butter production this year, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Due to less supply, and continued consumer demand, the cost of butter has skyrocketed nearly 27% year over year, according to the latest 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 deal: The worst thing consumers can do is start panic buying butter. Since supplies are tight – but there is no official shortage – mass panic buying could lead to actual shortages. If you find yourself in a pinch without butter for baking, there are substitutes that may work in some recipes, including pumpkin puree and applesauce.
For other uses, there are vegan butter options like Earth Balance and Miyoko’s, which taste like real butter and not like the plastic margarine options of years past. Most shops also carry imported butter brands such as Kerrygold, although they tend to be more expensive.
Is Scarcity the New Normal?
Continued shortages may have consumers asking if these supply disruptions are the new normal. But experts see a light at the end of the supply chain tunnel.
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic caused major disruption to supply chains as lockdown measures restricted production. The global supply chain is so tightly interconnected that there is still time to untangle those knots.
When greenbacks eased, demand for many products increased exponentially, but supplies struggled to keep up. The war in Ukraine is exacerbating these issues by shrinking many commodities used in the production process, including oil.
This perfect storm of chaos is putting the supply chain back at a snail’s pace — but it’s recovering. Data from the New York Fed’s Global Supply Chain Pressure Index suggests those pressures are starting 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 part of everyday life for the foreseeable future.