How Supply Chain Snarls are Hitting Close to Home—and Schools

by | Oct 7, 2021 | Manufacturing & Supply Chain

Reading Time: 4 minutes

For a while now, the difficulties the supply chain has been facing have been at a higher level than the average American might be paying attention to. After initial shortages, the grocery store shelves looked re-stocked, appliances seemed more readily available, and construction projects that were paused picked back up. Everything seemed to be normal again, though maybe at a higher price to cover rising costs.

But as manufacturers know, critical issues throughout the pandemic impacted the availability of certain parts and slowed production, while the flow of shipping has been interrupted by backups at ports around the world. And those disruptions are starting to be felt by everyone – especially children.

School lunch shortages

During the pandemic, many families relied on lunches – and in many cases breakfasts — provided by school districts, even when children weren’t physically in the school buildings. The students are now making their way back into the buildings, but some of the food is not.

Labor shortages — from truck drivers to those who work in warehouses or on assembly lines — are forcing some food distributors to cancel contracts with schools. On top of that, the supply chain issues have affected the availability of certain food products as well as other cafeteria items like plastic cutlery.

The government has relaxed some of its enforcement around meeting federal nutrition guidelines, and in some cases is increasing its rate of reimbursement for schools spending more to overcome the shortages. But it’s not enough in some places to prevent some cafeteria worker shortages, where the extra pressure of the job has become too much to handle.

Not home for the holidays

Experts are cautioning that the current situation could stretch on for an unforeseen amount of time — meaning that certain food items may be unavailable for holiday celebrations…or certain gift items may not arrive in time or, at least, not without significant cost increase.

Why the increase in cost? According to one shipping estimate from a board game shipper, before the pandemic it might cost at most $7,000 to ship a 40-foot container of games from Shanghai to a warehouse in Michigan. That price is currently up to at least $26,000, and could get to as high as $35,000.

But that’s if the shipping container becomes available in the first place. Because of the virus, dockworker shortages led to a slower unloading of containers at ports, which has led to fewer containers being loaded elsewhere, and ships unable to dock to unload. And, in some situations, shortages of items like computer chips or other small parts have prevented certain products from being made in the first place.

What you can do

Solutions are hard to come by. For some businesses, the best they can do is avoid putting prices in their holiday catalogs because prices have been fluctuating so much. Experts caution it might still be a while before the supply chain stabilizes.

The best approach is to use data to take advantage of what’s in your control. You can’t do anything about a ship that’s idling and preventing goods from being unloaded…but you can manage the efficiency of how you store goods waiting to be shipped. You can’t speed the traffic on the seas, but you can take advantage of the time where nothing is happening to maximize efficiency in your supply chain. That in and of itself is a better use of time than sitting and worrying about aspects that are out of your control.

There are other pending complications that aren’t helping the global view. Economic complications in the United States and China could have a negative effect on markets, which could impact spending heading into the holiday season. Then there’s the risk of variants, and the unknown of when the pandemic’s impact on the economy will be over. Unfortunately, there is no amount of data yet that can help predict that timing.

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