A woman shops in a downtown business

One of the delayed effects of the pandemic has reared its head over the last few months as supply chains globally have become bogged down, resulting in some goods becoming scarce on store shelves and delivery times for products purchased online delayed by weeks if not months. 

The causes of the world's supply-chain issues are complex but can all be traced back to the pandemic and its effects. 

"We've had two presidents now call it 'the supply chain,' which is kind of a misnomer," said Glenn Richey, chair of the Department of Supply Chain Management at Auburn University. "There are literally thousands upon thousands of them, and so managing them is complex.

"This, of course, is a very dramatic kind of slowdown."

Richey said the start of the supply chain issues can be traced to the shutdown of manufacturers and raw material extraction companies during the pandemic, which then had a cascading effect globally.

"When your raw materials companies closed down, the manufacturer can't get the part that they need," said Richey. "Then your parts manufacturer companies closed down, the major assembly companies (can't get the parts they need). Right now, we're talking about can't get the chips for cars. We also can't get chips for trucks to drive equipment, sensors, that type of thing. So that lack of equipment slows the production process down significantly."

Richey added that some industries have started to catch up while others are still experiencing shortages and delays. He pointed to the food industry as one sector that is still working to get things back on track. 

"It takes a significant amount of time for some of those products to come back up to pace," he said.

Other factors influencing supply chains during the pandemic include the issuance of stimulus checks, which prompted people to buy more, and recommendations from politicians and the media to buy Christmas gifts early, which caused a peak wave of e-commerce to hit earlier than normal, said Richey. 

"Along the same time, demand went up, and the port is so constrained that the product can't get through," said Richey, who also noted labor issues as a contributing factor as well. "A lot of people think, 'Just unload the boats, just unload the boats.' That's what we need to do, but the problem really is space, how high you can stack the empty containers, full containers. And so they're trying to get this through the system, and they eventually will."

The issues along supply chains have also affected grocery stores, with some companies, like Publix, announcing rationing of goods. 

"I think that they have put 15 different products on rationing — you can buy one, you can buy two," said Richey. 

The rationed items include typical holiday fare, like canned cranberry sauce, jarred gravy and pie filling, but also items like canned cat food, sports drinks and bacon. 

"The list of products would make you go, 'What?'" said Richey. "Some of them make perfect sense because it's the holiday season. It's turkey and that kind of thing. But some of the others, just obviously something happened at the manufacturing level. And it's been challenging for grocery folks because the manufacturers of packaging aren't keeping pace. If you're going to buy Powerades, Dale's sauce or whatever, you may see that the size you like is not available because the packaging companies have decided that, 'Well, we're going to focus on these different sizes. We're not going to do the jumbo size, we're not going to do the small size because we don't have the materials to do it.'

"I've talked to some of the manufacturers in the state that make the Alabama homegrown products and it's frustrating. They say, 'I can't get the packaging, can't get the trucks, can't get it to the store. As this thing rolls out, it may take until the first quarter of 2023 for it to all get back into sequence and be seamless, but it will over time. It's going to get there."

Anna Hovey, president of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, said one positive effect of the supply-chain issues has been that it has encouraged people to buy local. 

"I do think it's somewhat encouraged customers to be more mindful about supporting our local retailers," she said.

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