December 1, 2022

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Tampon shortage: Why U.S. is short on tampons, sriracha, bikes and formula


Most parents — especially those with young children or those with allergies to milk — are painfully aware of the ongoing baby formula shortage, which started with supply chain challenges and families stockpiling but reached a crisis stage with a formula recall and the shuttering of America’s most productive infant formula plant.

But while baby formula might be the most problematic shortage, it’s not the only supply chain challenge U.S. families face.

Sriracha hot chili sauce and tampons have recently joined a long and growing list of items that are hard to come by in parts of the country, which also includes garage doors and 2-by-4s and computer chips. Read on for the latest details.

Tampons

While many other items have reappeared on store shelves over the course of the pandemic, the supply of tampons seems to have gotten much worse, not better, Dana Marlowe, founder of I Support the Girls, which provides bras and menstrual items to females experiencing homelessness, told Time.

“What’s been going on for a couple of months is that organizations call us up and say, ‘We need tampons,’ and we go to our warehouse and there’s nothing there,” she said.

She said they received about half their usual donations of the menstrual hygiene product. Meanwhile, according to Time, profiteers are trying to make a killing on Amazon by offering to sell tampons at outrageous prices.

Procter & Gamble, which manufactures Tampax, has said it’s having trouble sourcing the raw materials it needs for feminine care products, calling it “costly and highly volatile.” Other companies complain of the high cost to ship them to retailers.

Staff shortages have also been cited in media reports as contributing to the problem. Bloomberg reported that though the Tampax factory is now paying about $25 an hour at its Maine factory, the company is having trouble competing during a time of labor shortage.

“P&G says that staffing at the Auburn plant — the sole source of its Tampax-brand tampons sold in the U.S. — has ‘largely stabilized,’ but people familiar with the production needs say that the facility is short-handed,” Bloomberg said of the Maine manufacturing plant.

The New York Times said those searching for the product have also complained about the rising cost, a shift that stems in part from inflation.

Women are cautioned not to try to stretch their tampon supply by changing them less frequently. Toxic shock syndrome can result and is very dangerous.

Sriracha

Those who love spicy food are stocking up after the Huy Fong company said in June that the drought in Mexico and the California coast have severely reduced the number of chili peppers being harvested for the hot sauce.

“We don’t recommend panic buying, though,” an article on shortages in Popular Mechanics said. “Upset consumers posting on social media say this may only exacerbate the problem, as hoarding supplies like toilet paper did at the beginning of the pandemic.”

Construction goods

The New York Times said in February that the homebuilding industry ”is having the most difficult time in decades meeting demand.”

According to the article, “A single house under construction in America today faces all kinds of problems, starting with a run on lumber, then bricklayers in demand, subcontractors with (COVID-19), appliances on back order and plumbing fixtures out at sea.”

As the year has gone on, the situation hasn’t improved. Garage doors are the biggest headache, after months where lumber bore that title. Besides supply, the price has reportedly tripled in the last year, with the time from ordering to arrival stretching into months. “Homebuilders who would once order garage doors several weeks before finishing a house are now ordering them before the foundation is poured,” the Times reported.

Computer chips

You may be feeling chipper, but manufacturers of cellphones, computers and cars are not. They’re suffering through a computer chip shortage that’s global. Popular Mechanics says car manufacturers have even removed some of the features from cars that consumers really love, like heated seats and power steering because of the supply challenges. Some reportedly have put certain car models on hold until the supply chain problem eases.

JP Morgan said this shortage is simple to explain: too much demand and no supply — a crisis it says grew out of lockdowns in the pandemic. “The COVID-19 pandemic has been the catalyst, but structural factors are also part of the picture. The auto industry is changing, with a major shift towards automation and electric vehicles. These require yet more chips, causing further strain on an already stretched industry,” the company said.

Bicycles

More families and individuals reportedly took to riding bikes for recreation and exercise during the pandemic, but the increased demand coupled with supply chain challenges earlier this year put bikes on the list of items you might not find readily at local retailers. If you bypassed the store and ordered one online, the wait typically stretched longer than you’d hoped because of various supply chain and shipping disruptions, too.

While the situation has reportedly eased quite a bit, thedenverchannel.com reports that inexpensive bikes are still very hard to come by. “Now, though, you can choose any type of bike you want except those inexpensive bikes that manufacturers just don’t make money selling anymore,” the report said.

Those same-quality bikes now cost as much as $200, which could be the same as having an ongoing shortage for families that can’t afford the steeper price.

Infant formula shortage

Efforts to end the baby formula shortage keep hitting snags — like the fact that Abbott Nutrition’s plant in Sturgis, Michigan, that typically produced the greatest amount of baby formula in the United States shut down again from massive storm damage just days after reopening after it was shuttered over concern about bacteria found in the factory, though not in the product. And that had been preceded by supply chain woes, parents stockpiling formula and a recall of Abbott Nutrition formula.

The military and commercial airlines continue to fly in formula from Europe, Australia and elsewhere as part of President Joe Biden’s Operation Fly Formula, but the bulk of it hasn’t hit retail store shelves for the general formula-consuming population. Most early imports were hypoallergenic formulas for those with special dietary needs.

The Defense Production Act is still being used to divert raw materials to U.S. companies that produce formula, which are producing more and doing so faster, according to news reports. But store shelves still have skimpy supplies, worse in some parts of the country than in others and officials continue to promise that relief is coming, but it’s not here yet.





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