The price of disposable rubber gloves that cooks use at the Texas Inn were $60 per case in 2019. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the price tripled to $180 per case. I get it. Supply and demand. A global pandemic tends to increase demand for PPE. Yet, the price of rubber gloves remains at record highs, despite demand decreasing. Why? 70% of everything we import into the United States comes by boat.
Currently there are 81 ships off the coast of California, between Los Angeles and Long Beach, anchored or drifting, as they wait to be offloaded. On Monday that number was 62. On a normal day, there would be three or four. I am praying that one of those ships is carrying a few containers of latex rubber gloves from Malaysia that will eventually be shipped to my restaurants in Lynchburg, Virginia. Without gloves, we can’t cook. Without food, we can’t stay open.
Malaysia accounts for 60% of global nitrile glove production and 75% of medical gloves used in the world. And all of those gloves get here by boat. If you’ve got something your company needs and it’s coming into the Port of Savannah expect a 60-day delay. If it’s coming to Charleston Harbor you might be waiting up to four months.
Of course, you might be lucky to get your merchandise at all. Globally it is estimated that 789 containers fall off ships each year. In 2020 that number increased to 3,000 and 2021 is on pace to more than double. Backlogs in the supply chain are forcing cargo ships to stack their cargo higher on deck, leading to more accidents in rough seas and high winds.
If your container finally gets into the U.S., there may not be enough longshoremen around to offload it and there might be additional delays getting a trucking company to ship it. The labor shortage is affecting every business, not just Burger King.
So in the short term, we all just have to be more patient. Every business is experiencing supply chain issues, but communicating with your customers is key to managing their expectations. Use your internal and external communications channels to communicate regularly with your customers. Successful companies will survive this supply chain SNAFU by emailing their customers, blogging about challenges (and solutions), and keeping in touch with customers through regular updates on their social media and web channels.
This problem may outlive the current pandemic and you’re likely to see barren shelves at your local Walmart for months to come. It may take six months to a year for the global supply chain to unkink itself. You have to be patient and so do your customers — and open, honest communication is your best tool in situations like this.