Ever since the coronavirus pandemic made its unwelcome presence felt, products have been disappearing from store shelves. Many goods we take for granted have been tough to find for long periods.
Thankfully, many of these products are now available again in abundance. But others that once seemed plentiful are suddenly scarce.
Following are some products in short supply right now due to the pandemic.
1. Shipping containers
A shortage of shipping containers is actually the result of good news.
The containers — metal boxes used to ship about 90% of goods around the global economy, according to Bloomberg — have been in high demand as the result of a trade boom that unexpectedly began in the second half of 2020.
Consumers stuck at home created a surprising level of demand for products such as computers, equipment to work at home or decorate houses, and imports of pandemic-related goods such as masks.
Chinese companies make most of these containers, and they are now scrambling to meet the unexpected demand.
2. Some Costco products
Walk down the aisle of a warehouse club, and it’s hard to imagine it could ever run out of anything. But even the mighty Costco has struggled to stay fully stocked with some items.
As we have reported, supply chain disruptions have left Costco facing delays for items ranging from sporting goods to seafood. For the lowdown on what has disappeared, check out “10 Items Your Costco Might Run Out of.”
3. Toilet paper
The pandemic appears to be on the wane. Infection rates have fallen, and mass vaccinations are well underway.
If the COVID-19 crisis really is on its last legs, we may be ending right where we began — with a shortage of toilet paper.
Early in the pandemic, toilet paper inexplicably became the hottest product in America overnight. Some stores went weeks without TP on the shelves. Eventually, the situation sorted itself out.
But now, toilet paper is on the brink of becoming scarce again.
The culprit this time is the same shortage of shipping containers we mentioned earlier. Wood pulp is used to make bath tissue, but the lack of containers means there could soon be supply issues, according to Suzano SA, the biggest producer of wood pulp.
A lack of toilet paper is one thing: After all, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
But no morning cup of joe? Now you’re talking a crisis of global proportions.
Supply line snafus are causing U.S. coffee supplies to shrink fast, and wholesale prices are jumping as a result. Java supply is now at a six-year low, and a drought in Brazil is expected to exacerbate the problem.
Christian Wolthers, the president of Wolthers Douque, a coffee importer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, told Bloomberg:
“Everybody is feeling the pinch. These bottlenecks are turning into a container nightmare.”
5. Aluminum cans
Like so many things in the pandemic, aluminum suddenly has become scarce. That has become a problem for companies that sell beverages in aluminum cans.
Both Ball Corp. and Molson Coors say they are struggling to keep up with demand. Daniel Fisher, Ball Corp. president, fears the problem will last at least into 2023.
6. Pickle jars
When Burger King decided to roll out its new hand-breaded chicken sandwich, it found itself in … well, a pickle.
A shortage of pickles means the sandwich may make its debut a little late in some parts of the country, such as western Michigan.
Jim MacDonald, the vice president of operations for Burger King Grand Rapids, told a local TV station that the pickles used in the sandwich are “very special bigger, crunchier, zesty pickles.” Those have proved hard to acquire:
“The problem was we couldn’t get the pickles because they couldn’t get the jars during the pandemic.”
7. Truck-driving jobs
Truck drivers have been the unsung heroes of the pandemic, driving products across the country to make sure Americans get the goods they need.
Finding those drivers hasn’t been easy in recent years. There has been a shortage of truck drivers that dates back at least 15 years, according to the American Trucking Associations.
But the COVID-19 pandemic unexpectedly changed the dynamic. There were 4.1 million unique job advertisements for trucking in 2019, according to a recent study by global third-party logistics services provider Coyote Logistics LLC, a subsidiary of UPS.
That dropped to 2.5 million postings in 2020.
What happened? As the study reported:
“Restaurants and local shops on Main Streets across America essentially stopped making purchases for their businesses, either because they were locked down or because they lost their customer base. And like the butterfly effect, the woes of small business owners appear to have thrown quite a wrench in the trucking activity.”
8. COVID-19 vaccine
In a perfect world, there would be enough COVID-19 vaccine that we all could rush out and get vaccinated today. But if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we do not live in a perfect world.
The effort to create, test and distribute a vaccine for the disease caused by the coronavirus has been nothing short of heroic. But there still is only so much vaccine to go around, which has led to rationing.
Fortunately, the end of the shortage is now in sight. President Joe Biden has said he wants every adult to be eligible for vaccination by May 1, and many states are well ahead of that schedule.
We don’t often think of blood as a “product,” but it is when people need it. And when lives are on the line, blood suddenly becomes more precious than gold.
Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic has created a crisis for blood banks in many places. The Red Cross said as recently as February that some blood centers report critically low inventories.
So, if you can give blood, plasma or platelets, please do. As an added bonus, your donation may net you a free coronavirus antibody test. For more, check out “A Free Way to Tell If You Have COVID-19 Antibodies.”
The high seas are one place the virus will have a hard time finding you, assuming you don’t end up on a cruise ship. But sailing out to your watery paradise has gotten tougher during the pandemic.
Boat sellers throughout Florida report waiting lists for new watercraft. Scott Ritter, who sells new boats at Ingman Marine in Port Charlotte, Florida, told the local newspaper in February that new orders could take four to six months to be delivered.
Lack of key supplies coupled with a surging demand once again is the source of the problem. Things may be getting a bit better, notes Joel DeYoung, a salesperson at 1st Klas Marina in Pike County, Pennsylvania. But he said this month that waiting lists are still not unusual:
“We did see a backup, basically a backorder on certain things. Obviously, with high demand and low inventory is a little bit tough, but you know we’re kind of working through it.”
11. New cars
Being trapped inside for nearly a year probably has you itching to hit the open road. But if such plans rely on finding a new car, you may have to keep those dreams in neutral.
Japanese automakers Honda Motor and Nissan Motor, for example, expect to sell fewer of their products this year due to a global shortage of semiconductor chips. The chip-making slowdown — yes, due in part to the pandemic — means inventory will not meet demand.
Things are expected to improve in the second half of 2021. But the situation remains dicey for now. In fact, Toyota and Honda said in March supply-chain problems were forcing them to temporarily shut down production in the U.S.
12. Xbox consoles
Dedicated gamers might be forgiven for wondering aloud, “Pandemic? What pandemic?”
After all, millions of folks spend countless hours in their living room or basement playing video games, blissfully unconcerned about the world outside.
But a little cloud is floating into that gaming utopia: Microsoft expects supply constraints affecting Xbox consoles to continue until at least the second half of 2021.
13. PlayStation 5 consoles
So, you’re brokenhearted over the Xbox shortage when you have a lightbulb moment: “I’ll just get a PlayStation 5 to tide me over!”
Unfortunately, the same supply constraints bedeviling Microsoft are also making life difficult for PlayStation manufacturer Sony.
Don’t panic, gamers. The world outside is less frightening than you think. Honest.
The asking price for newly listed homes has reached multiple new records this month, with a short supply of homes for sale being a key contributing factor.
While the lack of housing supply dates back more than a decade, rock-bottom mortgage rates that coincided with the pandemic exacerbated the problem.
So, new homes are becoming hard to find: Perhaps it makes sense to simply stay home and renovate your current abode.
Ah, if only it were so easy to escape the long arm of the pandemic. COVID-snarled supply chains — and heavy demand from consumers — have caused lumber supplies to fall. As a result, lumber prices are soaring.
16. Cat food
The world went to the dogs in 2020 — literally. Families and individuals cooped up in their homes suddenly decided they wanted canine companionship, which created shortages of adoptable hounds in some parts of the country.
Now, however, a new pet-related shortage has emerged. Stores are finding it difficult to keep cat food on their shelves.
From Pennsylvania to Connecticut and North Carolina, feline food is disappearing from stores. Some say the February cold snap that impacted parts of the country is responsible, but others are pointing the finger of blame squarely at the COVID-related production problems.
Finally, one of the oldest forms of transportation — the beloved bicycle — has suddenly become one of the scarcest.
Sales of adult leisure bikes soared 121% early in the pandemic, and the wheels came off the supply of new bikes as a result.
In mid-September, Jimmy Revard, co-owner of The Bike Line in Indianapolis, told Bicycling magazine:
“If a customer were to order a new bike today, the earliest we would likely receive it is December and maybe even as late as May.”
This month, Justyna Frank of Cosmic Bikes in Chicago said flatly: “If you’re looking for a $300 or $400 bike, it probably does not exist.”
The bike and parts shortage is expected to last — brace yourself — until possibly 2022.
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