8 Things That Are Hard to Get Right Now (and Why)

Posted on 10/19/21 by Kelly Anderson

empty shelves and yellow out of stock sign

Craig Hastings/Getty Images

En español

If you’re looking to buy new books, stock up on high-end tequila, or are planning to put a turkey on your table for dinner, you might find shelves empty or restrictions on purchases for the foreseeable future.

Household goods — from consumer electronics and liquor to Halloween decorations and Christmas trees — are the latest victims of global supply chain disruptions that have created widespread product shortages as American shoppers head into the holiday season.

Coronavirus-related closures continue to affect factories in Asia, and a shortage of truck drivers and warehouse workers in the U.S. has created massive shipping and production delays for many consumer products.

“Every place I look I see shortages, not of inventory, but of the equipment and the people needed to make it work better,” says David Marcotte, an expert in international commerce at Kantar Consulting, a market research firm.

Christopher Motasky, 53, of Shelton, Connecticut, helps manage shipping logistics for supply management company Pixior Global. Motasky says distribution networks are struggling to keep up with surging demand. “Just the sheer volume of what we’re bringing in has increased to a number where we haven’t been able to keep up,” he says.

Here’s a look at some items that may be hard to find in coming months:

1. Halloween products

Supply chain chaos has made for a spooky October among retailers who sell Halloween products. Candy, decorations, costumes and pumpkins have all been affected by transportation delays.

Experts say the backlog of container ships off major U.S. ports has been particularly harmful to the Halloween industry, which largely depends on imports to supply stores. Additionally, a shortage of truck drivers in the U.S. made it difficult for local stores to receive new merchandise in time for the holiday.

The dip in supply comes at an inopportune time. The Financial Times reported that Halloween-related sales are projected to increase 16 percent this year, to a record $10.1 billion.

2. Liquor

Liquor store sales skyrocketed early in the pandemic when restaurants and bars were forced to close. The surge in demand for alcoholic beverages has persisted, causing supply problems in several states.

Pennsylvania state officials announced in September that the state liquor board would begin imposing a daily limit of two bottles per customer on certain alcoholic beverages. Virginia has also imposed state-mandated restrictions on purchases, and stores in New Jersey, Ohio and elsewhere have reported shortages.

Production of whiskey, tequila, and other popular spirits is a process that can take anywhere from five to 30 years, which has made it difficult for producers to increase supply.

“We’re in a difficult position when it comes to an unforeseen increase in demand in that we simply cannot ramp up production. Those decisions are made years in advance,” says David Ozgo, chief economist of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Most liquor stores still have plenty of stock, but it may be difficult to find luxury and premium spirits due to shortages, according to Ozgo.

3. Christmas trees

Extreme weather in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest have created a shortage of Christmas trees. Severe summer droughts in Oregon and Washington scorched many Christmas tree farms that are struggling to recover heading into the winter months.

Jami Warner, executive director of the American Christmas Tree Association, says that despite supply issues, shoppers who start looking early for a tree will not encounter problems. “The majority of U.S. consumers will be able to find a Christmas tree for their homes this year. But to find the one that perfectly fits their tradition, vision and budget, they will need to find and buy it early,” Warner says.

4. Consumer electronics

The global chip shortage continues to create problems for major technology companies, including Apple and Samsung. Manufacturers stopped producing semiconductor chips early in the pandemic, and supply levels have not caught up with surging demand.

In addition to COVID-19 outbreaks that have shuttered some factories in Asia, a typhoon in the Western Pacific and emissions restrictions imposed by the Chinese government have limited the production capacity of the world’s largest technology manufacturers.

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5. Print Books

Surging demand for print books has created problems for publishers, who are struggling to keep up amidst a paper and ink shortage.

Vox reported that print book sales increased 13.2 percent from 2020 to 2021, and 21 percent from 2019 to 2021, citing data from industry tracker NPD BookScan. Wood pulp supply has decreased in that time while the ink industry became more consolidated, increasing paper and ink costs.

Large chain booksellers haven’t experienced many problems thus far, but supply issues have forced some major fall titles to delay their publishing dates and will likely make it harder to get copies of lesser known, newer titles.

6. Grocery products

Labor and supply shortages are driving problems for grocery stores, forcing some to cancel promotional deals and impose purchase restrictions on certain products.

Worker shortages have forced food producers to reduce plant capacity, decreasing output just as manufacturers struggle to find truck drivers to transport food products to stores, according to Phil Lempert, a food-trend analyst and founder of SupermarketGuru.com.

Data from IRI, a research firm that tracks retail, shows that 18 percent of beverages, 16 percent of snacks, 15 percent of candy and almost 15 percent of frozen foods were out of stock at stores during the week of Oct. 3.

“In talking to a lot of the supermarkets, they place orders and they’re receiving 60 to 70 percent of what they order. Their producers are just not able to deliver,” Lempert says.

7. Turkey

Labor shortages in turkey processing factories have left experts worried some families will have difficulty finding a bird for the big day in November.

“We don’t have enough labor in turkey processing facilities to fulfill the amount of orders that we’re going to need,” Lempert says. The shortage will likely affect only fresh, smaller turkeys that weigh less than 14 pounds, according to Lempert. Larger turkeys are raised throughout the year and not as likely to be impacted by the worker shortage, he says.

8. Clothing and apparel

Shipping delays and reduced factory output have made it harder for companies such as Nike and Adidas to supply apparel to shoppers around the world.

Surging COVID caseloads in Vietnam and Indonesia caused local governments to shut down major factories in September, adding to transportation delays. The factories have mostly been reopened, but companies are playing catch-up to get back on schedule.

Kelly Anderson is a contributing writer who covers features and political issues. He has written for DCist, the Society for Human Resource Management and Georgetown Magazine.

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