At first it was toilet paper.
Then wood, chicken wings and cheese.
And now tampons, sriracha hot sauce, and peanut butter are hard to find. The shortages persist for more than two years in the pandemic as manufacturers continue to deal 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 makes it difficult to rebuild your supply chain,” said John Taylor, professor of global supply chain management at Wayne State University.
Related: Seeing empty grocery shelves again? Here’s why.
Shoppers in Michigan have seen sporadically empty grocery store shelves since March 2020. But a recent survey from Retail Insight found that 71% of American consumers think shortages are worse now than they were in the early days of buying due to the pandemic.
Here’s why some items are hard to find these days:
Where are all the tampons?
Tampons are the latest victim of the supply chain crisis that has plagued manufacturers for two years.
Barren shelves are now receiving customers looking for period products One Twitter user documents the scarcity By saying, “The tampon shortage has reached northern Michigan.” Time magazine first reported that the shortage was the latest blow to women after the Abbott factory closure led to a baby milk crisis.
A Walgreens spokesperson confirmed that there is a shortage of “branded” tampons in certain parts of the country. While Matt Blanchett, CVS’s director of retail communications, said suppliers have been unable to “full volumes of orders” in recent weeks.
The shortage of raw materials such as cotton and plastic is said to be responsible for the production problems.
Related: Expand the free tampon program to all public restrooms at the University of Michigan
Procter & Gamble, the $366 billion company behind Tampax and Always products, cited challenges such as “commodity and raw materials prices, labor costs, transportation, energy, pensions and health care” in an earnings call in April.
“There are some problems with the sourcing of raw materials,” said David Kloss, professor of supply chain management at Michigan State University. “I think the biggest factor is work.”
At Helping Women’s Period, a Michigan nonprofit that provides menstrual products to homeless or low-income people, Executive Director Lynse Tait noted recent delays when ordering in large quantities. Tate said the May 1 order didn’t arrive until mid-June when it would take about two weeks.
“In 2021, we received 3,000 repayments as in-kind donations during May. And this year, we only received 2,000.” “So, people don’t buy them to donate either.”
A deficiency like this is often exacerbated by hoarding.
Taylor says these “wild fluctuations” create a powerful effect as sudden demand pushes suppliers to ramp up production.
“If you are out of stock because the COVID pandemic has delayed shipments, retailers are out of stock now,” Taylor said. “They demand more and more, so you ramp up your production even more. It takes two months to ramp it up and get the raw materials to make tampons, and then surprise customers don’t really need that.”
Related: Michigan no longer has a “stop tax” on menstrual products
The shortage coupled with inflation has also driven up prices for menstrual products, with the cost of tampons increasing nearly 10% and sanitary pads up 8.3% from a year ago, according to Bloomberg.
Tate says limited supply and rising costs are affecting people’s health and the economy.
“People use things they are not supposed to use if they don’t have the product they need, so they use socks, T-shirts, paper towels, toilet paper,” she said. “Or they miss school or work just because they’re home.”
However, this shortage can lead to increased awareness of reusable products such as menstrual cups and period underwear.
“Maybe this helps push people over the edge a little bit,” Tate said.
RIP to a hot Sriracha summer
Sriracha fans may be scrambling to stock up this summer.
Hoy Fong Foods, the company that produces hot sauce with a cult-like following, has confirmed an “unprecedented shortage” of chili products. This will affect the production of hot chili, garlic, sambal oleic and sriracha sauces.
“We are still seeking to resolve this issue caused by several escalating events, including unexpected crop failures from the spring chili pepper harvest,” Huy Fong Foods said in a statement.
Huy Fong Foods sourced from chilis from Mexico, according to NBC News, which is currently experiencing historic droughts.
“It’s related to a number of things,” Kloss said. “One of them is the lack of raw materials, packaging and food ingredients that go into the hot sauce”
An April note from Huy Fong Foods to distributors said orders would remain pending until September.
“We hope for a fruitful fall season and thank our customers for their patience and continued support during this challenging time,” the company said.
Peanut butter in jam
Peanut butter is also hard to come by these days. But this shortage has nothing to do with supply chains.
Nearly 50 creamy, crunchy, and natural peanut butters were recalled in late May by JM Smucker due to possible salmonella contamination. Sixteen diseases across twelve states have been linked to the recall, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.
Although the recall only affects Jif products, images on social media show vacant shelves where customers gobble up other brands of peanut butter.
“They just assume there will be a shortage when the nature of demand is not there,” Kloss said.
Despite the shortage, some retailers also have a lot of products
Although there have been intermittent shortages of products for the past two years, retailers are currently dealing with another problem: overstocking.
“Within the supply chain, it’s always difficult when demand changes to know what’s really going on because you tend to overreact,” Taylor said.
Retailers, in an effort to meet the demand from shoppers with stimulus money on hand, have stockpiled products such as patio furniture. But then, supply chain issues and shipping delays resulted in too much inventory when demand changed.
Related: Toilet paper wasn’t the only shortage caused by the pandemic. This is what affected the Michiganders
The national retailer in early June announced targeted plans to cut prices to remove “excess inventory”. Walmart, in a recent earnings call, noted that inventory is up 33% as customer demand changes under inflation pressures — shoppers are spending more on food and less on general merchandise.
Taylor says it could take some time, even in 2023, for the whip to loosen.
Consumers can expect everything to slowly improve. But it will take months and maybe the rest of the year – if we don’t have more variables or big closures – it will take the rest of the year to sort everything out,” he said.
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