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Strain on supply chain leads to purchase limits on certain products

A strain on the supply chain has led to retailers imposing purchase limits for certain items. (WWMT/Chris Yu)
A strain on the supply chain has led to retailers imposing purchase limits for certain items. (WWMT/Chris Yu)
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A strain on the supply chain has led to retailers imposing purchase limits on certain items.

Local retailers, like the Meijer in Portage, put up signs that read, "Demand for this product is extraordinarily high." Designated items could only be purchased in smaller qualities, such as two or four at a time.

Some of those products included toilet paper, peanut butter, pasta, jam and sauces.

"We've never really truly, what I would say from a supply chain perspective, recovered from the pandemic," said Zac Williams, director of the Center for Integrated Supply Management at Western Michigan University.

One of the reasons for the strain on the supply chain was the labor shortage, said Williams.

"This continued to be a major issue really for most organizations, and it's hard to go out anywhere in public right now and not see 'Help Wanted' signs. So it's across the board affecting every major operation right now," Williams said. "Not only do we have issues in the supply side with labor, we also got extremely high demand too. And then we look at shortages in inventory across the board of what's happening with - just a shortage in supply across the supply chain, mixed with labor shortage, mixed with high demand. So it's almost a perfect storm of supply chain issues."

The high demand could be the result of people reacting to the latest pandemic surges.

"We have seen, at least from media reports and so forth, upticks in some outbreaks in certain parts of the country and certain regions," Williams said. "And my guess is what's happening here is that people are starting to get worried about this as they read about it and hear about it that maybe some other things are going to happen. And so we have been maybe buying a little bit more and stocking up if you have, while at the retail level, we see a little bit of demand shift there."

In addition, the supply chain was struggling with transportation issues.

"The transportation industry in particular, is very overloaded right now. Last count, I think there were 60-some vessels waiting to get unloaded out on the West Coast of Long Beach, so forth, our busiest ports," Williams said. "Internally, warehouse space is very limited. And again, labor shortage exacerbating throughout the logistics and the supply chain industry, whether it'd be truck drivers and warehouse worker operational folks as well."

Natural disasters also put a strain on the supply chain.

“We had major ice storms through the winter through the Southwest, in Texas and so forth. We had all sorts of wildfires this year as well," said Williams. "So those issues can’t, you know, even though they’ve been fairly regionalized and so forth, they’ve had major impacts too to supply chains that are already very strained. So we really have been going on for almost two years now of just gut punch after gut punch after gut punch.”

Natural disasters, in turn, affect the transportation of goods, said Williams.

“For example, in the West Coast into Canada and so forth, that may prevent cargo from being unloaded or prevent rail lines from opening up and so forth," he said ."So again, we might see the natural disaster news in national media and so forth, but not thinking it’s going to impact us because we’re ‘far away.’ But supply chains are truly global. So any hiccup that we see really anywhere worldwide can potentially have impacts no matter where you are.”

While the combination of the aforementioned factors strained the supply chain, Williams said it still held up pretty well, given the circumstances. But he expected that the uncertainty in the supply chain to continue into 2023.

Williams also advised consumers to do their holiday shopping early.

"You may not find the deals that you normally do this year. There will be deals. They just may not be as plentiful," said Williams. "Two - availability just to get your hands on it. And then three - mixed with the transportation issue or ordering online and so forth, getting it actually delivered to home."

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