The pandemic supply chain problem now means a shortage of glass jars and bottles: NPR

2021-11-10 03:25:32 By : Ms. Vivian Lau

Makers of pasta sauce, vinegar and wine all say they are facing another pandemic shortage-this time in glass jars and bottles.

We now have another story about bottlenecks in the supply chain, and this story involves actual bottles. This is a case study of how pandemic shortages and shipping issues have made an ordinary container difficult to obtain, and it has pushed up the prices of everything from bourbon to barbecue sauce. Scott Horsley of NPR reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: In the global business world, Daniel Liberson is a very small fish. He is the owner of Lindera Farms in Delapland, Virginia, and he describes himself as a vinegar geek.

DANIEL LIBERSON: We are a small, small handcrafted manufacturer that produces shelf-stable, sustainable pantry products.

Horsley: Liebeson seasoned it with a hot sauce made from hand-picked wild onions and heirloom peppers grown on a nearby farm. Depending on the weather and local growing conditions, the supply of raw materials may be volatile. But until now, he never has to worry about finding bottles to package his products.

LIBERSON: Natural whims and whims are not as daunting as whims that should be organized and structured supply chains. But here we are.

Horsley: In recent months, demand for bottles has surpassed supply. Lieberson found himself behind, pushed aside because suppliers catered to customers with larger orders. He was finally able to find the bottle in Italy. They are now on a cargo ship bound for the east coast. He just hopes that they will arrive on time during the busy holiday season, which usually accounts for about half of his annual sales.

LIBERSON: There is a captain who takes my life in his hands. Basically, if there are any problems with the goods, I'm done.

Horsley: Lieberson is not the only one on this leaky supply chain ship. David Ozgo, the chief economist of the American Distilled Liquor Council, said that some distilleries have difficulty packaging their whiskey and rye, which may cause occasional empty shelves in liquor stores.

DAVID OZGO: We must have heard that there is a shortage of bottles. We encourage anyone who wants a special Christmas bottle to start buying now, because you may need to go to your local retailer two or three times.

Horsley: So how did this happen? Scott DeFife, chairman of the Glass Packaging Institute, insisted that US glassmakers are still producing large numbers of bottles.

SCOTT DEFIFE: In this country, there is no shortage of raw materials for glass, and factories are producing new glass containers at full capacity.

Horsley: But 20% to 30% of the bottles used in the United States are usually imported from Europe or Asia, so part of the problem is transportation. Many bottles may fall into the same cargo traffic congestion, and this congestion hinders many other imported products. And since domestic glass factories are already operating at full speed, customers who have delayed imported bottles may find it difficult to find alternatives at the last minute.

DEFIFE: The demand is high. The logistics is a bit abnormal. Imports are congested. And the production runs quite well at maximum capacity. So put these things together, there will be some wrinkles.

Horsley: More importantly, these wrinkles can nourish each other. Ask Paul Guglielmo, who made and bottled his iconic pasta sauce range in Rochester, New York

PAUL GUGLIELMO: We have been told at least twice that a particular jar will take at least a month to buy. The pressure it brings to us is that you are afraid of not finding the material. So how do you react? Well, you react by buying more.

Horsley: Remember how people snapped up toilet paper last year? This kind of hoarding will worsen the shortage and it will also push up prices. Guglielmo's pasta sauce jar, which used to sell for 33 cents, now sells for 47 cents, an increase of 42% before he cuts the first tomato. Guglielmo swallowed part of the increase, but he also increased his prices at the grocery store.

GUGLIELMO: I think everyone will make this decision throughout the entire supply chain. They decide whether we want to eat all of them, some of them, or all of them?

HORSLEY: The inventory of empty cans in Guglielmo's warehouse helped him sleep better at night, but it also cost him a lot of money, and he was not tied up right away.

GUGLIELMO: I walked past trays, trays and unused glass trays, we will use it. I want it here. You know, it should be here. But I think it’s just a pile of cash, do you know?

Horsley: Even if the small-scale vinegar manufacturer Lieberson could find the bottle, he couldn't afford the inventory on hand. Now he is sitting on the vat of vinegar and hot sauce, fingers crossed, and his bottle will arrive on time during the holidays.

Lieberson: Listen. I am a neurotic Jew, and I have to tell you, you know, all I think of are words that induce heart disease.

Horsley: If you find that your favorite vinegar, bourbon or pasta sauce is not available in the local store this winter, Guglielmo said please be patient.

Guglielmo: We are working hard. I guarantee that the people in the supply chain are working very, very hard. Among anyone I know, no one would sit down, raise their feet, and say, I don’t want to work now. You know, this will not happen. People are working very hard all day long.

Horsley: Guglielmo's glass supplier told him that the situation might get better next spring. Assuming we can find one, we can all raise a glass. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

(Original sound of glass candy song, "Beautiful Object")

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