By Elizabeth Corbett, VP of Sales for AE Global
If there was ever a year that we all learned the importance of the supply chain and its impact on our daily lives, 2021 was it. For anyone who somehow hasn’t realized the effect, take a look at grocery prices the next time you shop. The cost of dairy, produce, and countless other items all highlight a fragment of the ongoing concern across the supply chain.
Heading into 2022, just about every company is pondering a similar question: How do we mitigate current and potential challenges for the next decade?
How did we get here?
The pandemic shined a light on numerous glaring issues and failures in the current supply chain.
COVID-19 spotlighted an aging infrastructure in a way it had never been before. Life moved us all into the 21st century years ago. Yet, U.S. ports remained stuck behind using software better suited in a museum as a relic rather than a relied upon, integral component. Instead of being put out to pasture, we continue to rely on this tech to handle shipping volumes that fail to align with today’s demand. With outdated, turn-of-the-century software, ports could not address the volume of daily imports.
Compounding the issue are manufacturing and inventory programs with zero flexibility or ready-to-implement fail-safes in case of dire situations like the one we’re in today. Companies with non-redundant sites like single-sourced manufacturing for an entire global production perfectly highlight this problem.
Infrastructure is far from the only significant factor. The pandemic upended just about every forecast possible. Furniture and appliance demand surged as people stayed home. Hard goods and eCommerce helped fuel a packaging demand spike, further impacting aged tech at ports. Meanwhile, the auto sector is expected to plummet. But, demand surged while companies slashed manufacturing orders. Meanwhile, tech development is months behind as it attempts to update critical tech infrastructure and other supply chain components.
Over the past two decades, a race to the bottom on production prices led many to offshore manufacturing. Once considered a viable option is now a significant pain point as stability wanes and tariffs increase. Then there are material shortages that halt production. This predicament is well on display for any goods made using materials like paperboard, resin-based materials, dyes, and adhesives.
The pandemic certainly did much of the damage, but domestic factors worsened matters, like the South Texas winter storms in the United States. Adding to the goods strains is the consolidation of manufacturers, limiting supply options during crucial times. This underlying industry concern kneecapped numerous sectors operating with just a few producers.
However, the most significant impact is the shortage of people. The tragic loss of lives, mandatory isolation orders, and full-site shutdowns limited the people power needed to sustain the marketplace. From ports to factories to transportation, every facet of the chain continues to struggle with a lack of people.
What is the current state?
The current state of affairs presents critical concerns. Like the year before, companies must contend with concerns that are substantial enough on their own. When coupled together, they create historical challenges.
Labor shortages continue to affect production. The Omicron variant has been the latest problem, just as optimism returned to many workplaces and organizations. The workforce dearth has once again slowed or stopped progress. Expect delays even when labor returns to full force.
The circumstances leave us in a dire time. Inflation has run rampant, impacting labor, transportation, substrate, and countless other costs. While the times are tough, we can remedy the problems with the right frame of mind and proper implementation.
A World Not Without Hope
The ample amount of adversity offers its slivers of silver linings. One of the brightest bits of optimism is the versatility of options available. Just about anything could be viable.
Think dynamically. Listen, consider, forecast, and plan for the days and years ahead. Success lies within your team and customers. Consider all opinions when planning your next steps. Knowledge is vital to ensuring that these issues never happen again. With insights gathered, find the software, suppliers, and other needed components to make your supply chain thrive.
Now may be a good time to consider production closer to home. If impossible, make sure that your partners match timelines and production plan milestones before beginning any relationship. Sustainability is another concern that can’t be overlooked, even if it often comes at an additional cost. Its importance often clashes with sourcing consumers and other critical points mentioned here. That said, packaging can and must do what it can to reduce its carbon footprint—source from eco-conscious companies with options for recycled and/or recycled materials, alternative substrates, and other sustainable options whenever possible.
We should expect inflation to continue growing for some time despite substrate cost stabilization expected to help to a degree. As such, ask how prepared your company is for the challenges ahead. Evaluate every process component, from production to packaging to branding. Taking time to account for every possible hurdle ahead should best position your company to keep costs at a minimum while creating sustainable, consumer-friendly products that won’t get held up in ports and additional shipping lanes.
While times are tough, we can progress in the right direction. Now is the time to streamline the production process to develop customer-friendly products that puts sustainability into action. It’s a tall task, but creative thinking and proper implementation will work, benefitting us all in the process.
Elizabeth Corbett, VP of Sales for AE Global, is on a mission to build sustainable packaging & supply chain programs for cannabis and CBD companies which honor their brand identity, drive revenue growth, protect the product and do so cost effectively. “CannaBeth”, as she is fondly known, entered the cannabis industry more than eight years ago after spending the first part of her career developing packaging solutions for significant players in the retail and health & beauty markets such as Starbucks, Tiffany and Estee Lauder. Based in Seattle and Miami, Beth is passionate about finding environmentally responsible and sustainable solutions no matter what the form or substrate.