February 2022

COVID-19 is not to blame for all of the supply chain's shortcomings. While the effects of the coronavirus have certainly been far-reaching, some item shortages and production disruptions have had other causes. And when it comes diminished avocado availability evidenced in 2021, severe drought was to blame, according to a leading avocado producer.

During a recent earnings call, Limoneira Chief Financial officer Mark Palamountain noted that California went through a lengthy dry spell during the summer, which is where most domestically produced avocados are grown. As a result of severely limited rainfall, crop yields fell — as did the company's sales goals. Indeed, Limoneira sold only 3,000 pounds of avocados in the final quarter of 2021, Supply Chain Dive reported from the earnings call. That's down from the 487,000 pounds of avocados the fruit supplier cleared during the same period in 2020.

Evaporative demand exacerbated drought
The Golden State is known for its dry conditions, particularly during the summer months and into the early fall, but 2021 was exceptionally arid, even by California standards. The severe lack of moisture was, in part, due to a phenomenon known as evaporative demand. As the Los Angeles Times reported at the time, evaporative demand refers to the "thirstiness" of the atmosphere and is calculated based upon other measurable factors like relative humidity, air temperature, solar radiation and wind speed.

John Abatzoglou, an associate professor and climate scientist at the University of California-Merced, told the paper that evaporative demand has been an ongoing issue for the pacific region over the past 50 years. The phenomenon essentially exacerbates the adverse effects of limited rainfall.

California is home to 90% the country's avocado crop.California is home to 90% the country's avocado crop.

While rain is a highly important to the health of virtually all fruits and vegetables, avocados require copious amounts of water to grow properly relative to other fruits. According to SFGATE, mature avocado trees need between 40 and 50 inches of rain per year, depending on their size. Between July 2020 and June 2021, California as a whole saw less than half of the rainfall that it normally gets, The Weather Channel reported.

The Golden State is a major source of the country's fruits and vegetables as a whole, and it accounts for 90% of the United States' domestic avocado market, according to the California Avocado Commission.

December was a wet month for California
Although 2022 remains fairly new, Limoneira's CFO doesn't anticipate the same kind of production problems this year, mainly thanks to the state receiving more in the way of precipitation. This past December was one of the wettest on record for California, which will help shore up supply as peak growing season nears. Palamountain noted the snowpack that fell in the Sierra Nevada Mountain area will be very conducive to avocado production.

"That's going to go a long way to really filling up our agricultural canals and giving us access to additional water," Palamountain said during the earnings call, according to Supply Chain Dive.

Unlike corn stalks or certain squash plants, where overall yield is minimal, avocado trees are capable of producing massive amounts of avocados. In a given year, one tree can produce between 150 and 500 pieces of avocados, according to the California Avocado Commission.

From consumers to producers to retailers and investors, everyone who has any association with the supply chain has been frustrated by its recent performance. But perhaps no one is more exasperated by its present inconsistency than procurement professionals. Procurement pros are tasked with obtaining the equipment, parts and products required to complete their own processes. When those components aren't available, they have to improvise to avoid slowdowns.

Procurement problems have been particularly entrenched when it comes to semiconductors. Serving as the nerve centers for a wide variety of  technologies and machines, semiconductors are in severe short supply. The fact that they're so broadly used has only exacerbated their unavailability. As the SemiConductor Industry Association has reported, approximately 1 trillion semiconductors were sold worldwide in 2021 alone — a record high for a 12-month period. While chip manufacturing capacity has improved somewhat in recent months, breakneck demand will frustrate semiconductor supply for the foreseeable future.

In light of this, here are a few tips procurement teams should be mindful of as they seek to acquire chips in a tight market:

1. Be discerning with chip vendors
Scammers are always looking to take advantage of unsuspecting victims, and that's what is happening in the current supply-challenged climate. Renato Souza, vice president of business development for a chip distributor based in Texas, told Supply Chain Dive that fraudsters are brazenly passing off phony semiconductors as legitimate. With chips being so hard to come by, it's not uncommon for customers to buy what fraudulent vendors are selling — which is often a bill of goods. 

"There's a lot of people taking risks out there just buying from people and hoping that the parts coming into their sites and the manufacturing lines don't fail," Souza explained.

Encountering counterfeit semiconductors is not a new phenomenon; the Semiconductor Industry Association has warned about it for a number of years. But the high rate of demand — both in the United States and abroad — is increasing its prevalence. The smartest way to avoid being hoodwinked is to only buy semiconductors from reputable vendors. Do your own research or visit the Semiconductor Industry Association's website, which has a database on vendors that are licensed to sell chips. 

Semiconductors may be the hottest item on the market.Semiconductors may be the hottest item on the market.

2. Pledge to meet a certain buying quota
While many factors created the chip crunch, one of them had to do with not enough entities buying them — or enough of them, to be more precise. As Vanessa Miller of the litigation firm Foley and Lardner told Supply Chain Dive, those customers who needed chips a few years ago didn't purchase enough of them to make increased output worthwhile."We've heard from chip suppliers, 'We were happy to make chips for you. You just weren't ordering them,'" Miller said.

3. Avoid 'ghost bookings'
Ghost booking is a supply chain strategy in which customers buy up shipping space on multiple vessels, but for the same items sold by several manufacturers. This essentially serves as a backup plan in the off chance one supplier runs into trouble with production. But Souza warns that the unintended consequence of this strategy is artificially inflating prices. Instead, it's far better to shop with only a couple of suppliers as opposed to a half dozen or more. This should help keep prices more stabilized.

In the average year, what's happening at shipping ports generally isn't "above the fold" news items. The past few years, however, have been anything but ordinary — given the massive supply chain disruptions fueled by the global pandemic. When ports have made headlines, it's generally been about the nation's two busiest ones: the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. This isn't too surprising, since they handle an estimated 40% of the United States' containerized imports, according to data from the White House.

But there are over 350 commercial ports in the U.S., according to Global Trade Magazine. For the supply chain to notable improve and bottlenecks to clear, operations have to be running more smoothly at all of them. A massive spending package, with millions of dollars in grants going toward port infrastructure development, is designed to help with that.

Here are three non-west coast ports due to receive federal funding, the respective amounts and what the money will go toward in terms of development and improvements:

1. Port of Albany
Located in New York's capital city, the Port of Albany predates the United States and originally served as a trading post for timber and firs. But this import/export thoroughfare handles much more nowadays. It's now due to receive $29.5 million in funding to build on 14 acres of currently unused land, which will be used within the existing port itself, Supply Chain Dive reported from government data. This will build on to the roughly 360,000 square feet of covered warehouse space. Some of the grant funding will also be used for wind tower development along the Hudson River.

Albany lies along the Hudson River, where the Port of Albany is situated.The Port of Albany in the state's capital lies along the Hudson River.

2. Bayport Container Terminal
Appropriately situated in Texas' most-populous city, the Bayport Container Terminal lives up to the state's "everything is bigger in Texas" moniker, as it's soon to be capable of handling 2.3 million TEUs in a container year spanning 376 acres, as noted at its website. Through the earmarked funds furnished by the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, approximately $18 million will go toward the building out of Container Yard 1 South. The project will create 29 acres of green space at the port's Bayport Container Terminal complex. Once finished, the results should improve the overall efficiency and reliability of container flow by increasing storage capacity, according to the Department of Transportation.

3. America's Central Port
Located in Granite City, Illinois, America's Central Port is closer to St. Louis than it is to Chicago and has been operating there since the late 1950s. Lying at the crossroads of the country makes this port a major destination for the coming and going of goods (it's the third-largest inland port in the country). As such, approximately $4 million is being set aside to improve the berth and cargo transfer location flexibility at the port's Granite City Harbor facility. As with the other projects, the funding is meant to improve efficiency and workflows for crews that are in place.

Here's a complete list of the other ports receiving grants money for supply chain optimization.

When it comes to rising costs, real estate is in a league all its own.  For an astounding 118 months in a row, the price of a buying residential property has climbed on a year-over-year basis, according to the National Association of Realtors. That trend is expected to persist, given the degree to which construction materials are costing builders more to acquire.

In 2021, contractors spent approximately 20% more on items like lumber, steel, aluminum and roofing material than they did in 2020, according to newly released figures from the Associated General Contractors of America.

Among the pricier materials for last year was copper, which is a common metal used for fittings, hinges and door handles. The cost of copper and brass mill shapes was up more than 23% in December of 2021 compared to 12 months earlier, the Associated General Contractors of America reported.

What's pushing prices higher?
A major contributor to these spikes is inflation, which is intensifying with each passing month. Not only was inflation manifesting itself in 2021, but its deepening in 2022, contrary to the expectations of some economists. In January, the Consumer Price Index jumped more than 7% on a year-over-year basis, the Department of Labor reported. That's the largest swing in this measure since 1982.

Tariffs are another influencer. The Commerce Department, under the direction of The White House during two separate administrations, has imposed tariffs on softwood lumber originating from Canada. As 2021 came to a close, in fact, the tariffs were doubled from what was once 8.99% to 17.9%.

Anirban Basu, chief economist for the trade group Associated Builders and Contractors, told Construction Dive that tariffs are a huge problem, making an already challenging occupation that much harder for contractors.

"Contractors have the most difficult job in America today because every decision is fraught with risk and uncertainty," Basu said.

Higher building costs haven't priced out buyers  yet.Higher building costs haven't priced out buyers — yet.

Home buyers still flooding market
An additional cost driver for contractors is the frenetic pace of home buying, despite the high inflation environment. While existing-home sales ticked down nearly 5% in December compared to November, they rose for three straight months prior to the December report, according to the National Association of Realtors. Plus, inventory levels have dropped below 1 million, with just a 1.8-month supply based on the current rate at which people are closing on their home purchases. 

As a result of inflation and supply chain disruptions, builders are warning prospective home buyers to be prepared for home prices to continue escalating.

"Building material costs are up 21% compared to a year ago, said Robert Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders. "Their price and availability, along with persistent supply chain bottlenecks, remains the most urgent challenge for builders as they seek to boost production to meet rising demand."

He added that hiring hindrances for builders will also adversely affect home affordability.

From the monthly Consumer Price Index report to the daily cost estimates of a barrel of oil on the global market, evidence of inflation is just about everywhere. In fact, at this rate, it's harder to detect which prices have not risen than which ones have.

For some business owners, the quickest solution to this issue is to raise prices for all their products and services. Most Americans have already seen the cost of certain items tick higher and nearly 80% expect that trend to continue for the next six months, according to a recent Gallup poll.

But if you're looking to avoid causing sticker shock for your customers, while at the same time reining in business expenses, here are a few strategies that may work well.

1. Begin charging for services that used to be for free
If you're in field services, you may have been providing certain services on a complimentary basis, perhaps as a way to boost customer satisfaction or because the cost of the service itself was easily absorbed. You may want to start charging for that formerly free service for the time being. This is something cable providers and exercise equipment manufacturers are doing. For example, Peloton Interactive, which specializes in home fitness equipment like the Bike+ and Tread treadmill, delivered its products to customers' homes and set them up with no additional cost. But in January, the company announced that setup would cost customers $250 for its stationary bikes and $350 for its Tread. Customers have the option to assemble their equipment themselves.

Reducing serving sizes is one way to reduce production costs fueled by inflation.Reducing serving sizes is one way to reduce production costs fueled by inflation.

2. Pare down size or volume of items
Another strategy businesses are employing to save on expenses is to reduce the volume of their manufactured products. This has been a common workaround for a number of major food and consumer product manufacturers. For example, a number of cereal makers have opted to reduce the volume of how much cereal comes in each box, a phenomenon known as "shrinkflation." As NPR reported this past July, General Mills has reduced the amount of cereal in its family size boxes for kids' favorites like Cocoa Puffs, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios and Reese's Puffs. Boxes that were 19.3 ounces now come in at 18.1 ounces.

Proctor & Gamble has taken similar measures. As MousePrint reported in December, some of its Crest toothpastes are now 3.8 ounces instead of 4.1 ounces. Transparency is important, which is why companies that go this route are sure to update the specifications of their boxes when the volumes have changed.

3. Charge more for less popular or 'special' offerings
From soft drink distributors to baked goods producers, many companies offer more than one flavor of a given soda, bread or dessert. But their main offering is typically what sells the best. Instead of charging more for the most popular item, you may want to charge more for alternative flavors or "special editions." This is something big box retailers are doing since they're the ones that establish price points. According to The Wall Street Journal, Target is selling limited-edition Oreo birthday chocolate confetti cake cookies, which come in 24-count packages, for $3.79. Meanwhile, Oreo's Double Stuf offerings sell for 10 cents less, even though there are 30 cookies per pack.

These are a few alternative ways to adjust to the current inflationary environment without charging more for base prices.

Packed with healthy fats and containing two times the amount of potassium in a standard banana, avocados are one of the healthiest foods available. Their nutritional density — and delicious taste — help explain why the United States is one of the largest consumers of this fruit in the world. California growers certainly know as much, where the vast majority of the nation's domestic supply originates.

But farmers in the Golden State may soon experience a surge in demand, as the federal government has shut down a key foreign supplier due to a potential security threat.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, on Feb. 11, the United States imposed a ban on avocados originating from Michoacan, Mexico, a major hub for avocado production that lies to the west of Mexico City. The temporary suspension stems from a claim made by a U.S. official who is employed by the Department of Agriculture. That unnamed individual says they were contacted on their personal cell phone and that the caller made threats against their life.

90% of avocados sold in the U.S. are grown in Mexico
Out of an abundance of caution, and pending the outcome of an investigation, the USDA has decided to stop importing avocados from Michoacan, the only state in Mexico with clearance to export avocados to the U.S. Over 90% of the avocados consumed in the U.S. derive from Mexico.

The Association of Avocados Exporting Producers and Packers of Mexico, a local trade association, says it is fully cooperating with the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to further flesh out the nature of the threat and from where it originated.

Mexico is a major supplier of the United States' avocados, with 90% coming from there.Mexico is a major supplier of the United States' avocados, with 90% coming from there.

"The APEAM is actively participating in coordination with the authorities of both countries to resolve the problem in order to reinforce internal practices and processes that guarantee the traceability of the fruit," the group said in a statement obtained by CNN Business. "The facts mentioned here have already impacted the economy of the entire program, affecting the industry and the more than 300,000 jobs that depend on it. We encourage all those actors in this value chain to take extreme care and vigilance to preserve such an important export program."

Temporary ban likely to crimp supply, increase prices 
The ban on Mexican grown avocados comes at a bad time, given the hyperinflationary climate and ongoing supply chain disruptions. As the Department of Commerce reported, inflation rose over 7% in January, marking the largest yearly increase in 40 years. Paired with the existing supply chain problems fueled by the pandemic, prices are bound to surge, and avocado availability will diminish.

Maurine McGuire, who serves as the chief executive for the Farm Bureau of Ventura County, told the Los Angeles Times the only question is the degree to which prices climb.

"Without Mexico available in the long term to fill that consumer demand, it's actually a negative thing for the industry as a whole," McGuire said.

California farmers have benefited from a wetter-than-normal winter, which should help with crop yield. But with 3,000 avocado growers in the entire state — compared to tens of thousands in Michoacan — the supply crunch will be felt quickly.

What high fructose corn syrup is to packaged food supply chain, semiconductors are to consumer technologies supply chain: It's in just about everything. Be it in motor vehicles, the processing units of gaming consoles, mobile devices or kitchen appliances, semiconductors effectively serve as the brain center behind state-of-the-art gadgets and automated capabilities. But with technological advancements moving at a feverish pace, combined with the workforce interruptions caused by COVID-19, producers have been unable to keep up with unprecedented demand. Indeed, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the median demand for chips has soared, rising approximately 17% in 2021 versus the same period in 2019. And over that same period of time, the immediate availability of semiconductors slipped from 40 days to just five days.

While the shortage has lengthened delivery times, manufacturers that rely on semiconductors to complete their processes have been able to adjust to the supply chain crunch, some more successfully than others. Here are a few ways companies and the government are aiming to increase capacity or already have:

Investing in factories to increase output
There are many advantages to being a multinational corporation, and one of them is having the assets to spend on boosting output. This is what Intel plans on doing. As the chipmaker announced in January, Intel intends to build two "leading-edge chip factories" in Licking County, Ohio, which is located in the central portion of the Buckeye State. Intel is committing $20 billion to the project, and construction is slated to begin in 2022 and conclude in 2025.

Upon completion, the factory will span approximately 1,000 acres, which would make central Ohio a leading hub for semiconductor manufacturing.

The chip shortage has businesses taking action to boost capacity.The chip shortage has businesses taking action to boost capacity.

Expanding supplier base
The supply chain disruptions that so many businesses have encountered have reinforced the importance of strategic sourcing, which involves the ongoing evaluation of sourcing activities. If one supplier isn't able to meet an order, companies have to be able to pivot to one that can. This is something that hardware manufacturer Stanley Black & Decker has prioritized. The maker of household hardware and security products has added two new tier two and tier three chip suppliers, Supply Chain Dive reported.

Don Allan, who serves as president and CFO of Stanley Black & Decker, told stakeholders in an earnings call that this move will increase chip production between 20% and 30% in the second quarter of 2022 compared to the current pace. He added that, presuming demand for its equipment remains elevated, the company should "be able to really meet that … and improve the fill rates of our customers as well as the inventory levels in the store."

Identifying what microprocessors are needed most
Just as microprocessors are used for different end uses, they're also designed for different purposes and industries. As such, some are more in demand than others. As the Commerce Department has discovered, the ones that are the most highly sought after include analog chips, optoelectronic chips and microcontrollers.

Greater awareness of this fact provides developers with the visibility and direction they need to increase output for these microprocessors in particular.

Whenever the calendar turns from December to January, predictions are as plentiful as resolutions; it seems like everyone has them. While no one knows what the future holds, when it comes to the economy, the prognosticators are largely in agreement: Supply chain disruptions will continue well into 2022. 

Here are a few materials that experts suspect will be difficult to come by over the next 12 months. Something they all have in common is being in high demand:

1. Aluminum
Aluminum is one of the most abundant elements on the earth, but producers have been unable to churn out as much of it. Due to rising prices for natural gas — which is leveraged in production — as well as attempts to curb carbon emissions in several countries, output has diminished. Paired with rising demand, aluminum availability has slipped sharply around the world. As Supply Chain Dive reported, the Ball Corporation recently announced its intentions to build a massive packaging plant in Nevada to increase capacity. But the project is far from shovel-ready, with development unlikely to start until late 2022.

Semiconductors shortages have been a persistent pain point for businesses.Semiconductors shortages have been a persistent pain point for businesses.

2. Semiconductors
What aluminum is to the earth, semiconductors are to products in general; they're found in an incredible variety of machines, appliances, toys and more. And because they're so ubiquitous, organizations that rely on them to complete their own manufacturing processes have failed to reach their revenue goals.

Developers are investing in ways to ramp up output, but similar to the aluminum industry, the intensity of demand will prevent producers from catching up any time soon.

"We expect shortages and supply chain issues to remain front and center for the first half of the year," warned Deloitte in a report on semiconductor availability. Researchers for the consulting firm noted that there is an outside chance for supply levels to improve, but if that happens, it won't be until the first part of 2023 at the earliest.

3. Apparel
While many parts of the country produce clothing, Asia is the runaway leader, especially countries like China, Bangladesh and Vietnam. Southeast Asia has experienced some of the worst fallout from COVID-19. The high transmissibility of the coronavirus has led to staffing shortages for major brands like Nike, Columbia and Lululemon, according to CBS News. Because of this, these organizations may lose a considerable amount of money in terms of sales. Indeed, according to projections from Kearney, earnings losses for U.S.-based apparel firms could range between $9 billion and $17 billion in 2022.

4. Plastics
A core building block of plastics is resin, but for almost the entirety of 2021, this raw material has been in short supply, something the Institute for Supply Management has chronicled in its monthly reports. Contributing to its scarcity were a series of storms that swept through Texas in 2020, one of the nation's leading producers.

As Supply Chain Dive points out, some manufacturers have been successful with inventory management, but escalating expenses and tariffs will likely temper availability this year.

When inflation takes hold, it's only a matter of time before business owners have to raise their prices to offset their escalating expenses. Many businesses have already done so, and it appears one of the world's largest corporate entities will be following suit in the coming days, according to the organization's chief financial officer.

Procter & Gamble, which makes everything from deodorants to dishwashing detergents, says it will soon begin charging more for a number of its products. In an earnings call, P&G CFO Andre Schulten said consumers will be spending more on several of its laundry and personal health care products, such as Tide, Bounty, and Crest toothpaste, among others.

"Transportation and labor markets remain tight, availability of materials remain stretched in some categories and in some markets, inflationary pressures are broad-based with little sign of near term relief," Schulten noted in the earnings call with reporters.

Chemicals are pricier
More expensive raw materials are the issue for P&G. Schulten noted that across commodity classes, prices have climbed 44%, with prices for certain chemicals increasing sharply, up 60% from what the company was spending at this time last year. The reason for this has everything to do with the supply chain. According to a poll done in January by the American Chemistry Council, 98% of chemical manufacturers acknowledged having to adjust their production processes because of issues they were encountering with supply. Some of the most commonly cited problems were delays in shipping, limited availability of raw materials and spending more on transportation services. Close to 95% of respondents said their business costs had risen.

"Our member companies have made it very clear that widespread problems across all modes of transportation created an unwelcome and very disruptive environment for chemical manufacturers," said Martha Moore, chief economist for the ACC.

With the supply chain disruptions ongoing and not expected to subside in the near future, ACC executives say higher costs will continue for the entirety of 2022. 

The cost of raw materials is pushing prices higher for P&G products.The cost of raw materials is pushing prices higher for P&G products.

Alternative solutions also driving costs
In the meantime, Proctor & Gamble has resorted to alternative methods and solutions to obtain the necessary raw materials for their production processes. Schulten said those activities have also driven the company's costs higher, hence the need for their own price adjustments.

"When we need to shift to alternate materials, when we need to shift to alternate suppliers, or sources of materials geographically, that comes as a premium," Schulten said, as quoted by Supply Chain Dive.

Just about every commodity costs manufacturers more to produce or procure. In January, for example, aluminum, copper, electrical components, lumber, resin-based products, packaging film, vegetable oils and paper products were all up in price over the previous month, according to the Institute for Supply Management. The only commodities that cost less were certain steel products, plastics and petroleum.

To P&G's credit, the company acted early to avoid supply chain issues. Schulten, in October, said it would start leveraging different suppliers and would also reformulate some of its products, but not to a degree that would affect the buyers of those items. From a cost perspective, things have changed — or soon will. 

The Lunar New Year, which occurs on Feb. 1, is celebrated by billions of people internationally, but none more so than China, the world's most populated country. A national holiday in China, the Chinese New Year is similar to Jan. 1 in that business owners typically close to celebrate the day with their families. Yet instead of just one day, it's not unusual for people to take several off.

With China being a major source of imported goods, however, shippers suspect that the Year of the Tiger may take a bite out of an already wounded supply chain by pushing back delivery windows even further, according to the results of a newly released survey.

In a poll of shippers and forwarders performed by the tech firm Container xChange, roughly 66% said they fully anticipate supply chains to be impacted by the Chinese New Year celebrations.

China is America's largest supplier of foreign goods
Although the United States has the largest economy in the world, China's is a close second, with a gross domestic product totaling approximately $12.2 trillion, according to WorldoMeter. The Asian nation is also a major trading partner with the United States, with nearly 20% of imports deriving from the People's Republic of China, according to government data. Compared to other countries, China is also the United States' single largest supplier of imported goods, especially for electrical machinery, toys and sports equipment.

Given the degree to which economic activity derives from China — and the supply chain problems that are already in place — stakeholders are expecting further disruption.

Johannes Schlingmeier, the co-founder and CEO of Container xChange, noted that the flow of containers usually ticks up in the days prior to the Lunar New Year to make up for the difference when factories close. But the effects of COVID-19 have added a new wrinkle to supply chain management.

"Even though it is unclear if China will allow millions of workers to travel for holidays this year due to strict COVID-19 lockdown policies, shippers and forwarders are still expecting output from OEMs to decline significantly next month and are planning accordingly by shipping early," Schlingmeier said. "This is no doubt a factor in some of the spot freight rate increases out of China we have seen in January."

In many ways, the economies of the United States and China are interconnected.In many ways, the economies of the United States and China are interconnected.

Rates likely to climb
Not only do the people surveyed anticipate the flow of goods to diminish, but many also expect to be charged more. Indeed, 46% said they think freight rates will rise due to factory closures for the Chinese New Year, and 43% think container prices will increase.

Ongoing port congestion may also be contributing to shippers' slowdown suspicions. As The Wall Street Journal reported, the nation's largest shipping parts — Los Angeles and Long Beach — have encountered the heavies bottlenecks up to this point. But they appear to be spreading to other major ports, such as the Port of Charleston in South Carolina and the Port of Savannah in Georgia. Here as well, shipping rates are up from last year, averaging $12,000 per 40-foot container compared to $8,500 in the West.

Schlingmeier noted that if shipping activity does diminish, a potential positive is it would allow container lines to get their schedules straightened out, which would help to diminish existing backlogs. This could then improve the movement of containers once factories re-open and output rises.

On paper, the supply chain appears to have made some progressive strides, evidenced by improvements at the nation's shipping ports. Yet with supply still spotty, it's clear that the supply chain needs every break it can get for it to return to pre-pandemic norms. But it seems Old Man Winter has gotten that memo, as a combination of heavy snow, ice and freezing temperatures is only the latest challenge for shoppers and supply chain stakeholders.

From Winter Storm Izzy that slammed the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic in mid-January to a bomb cyclone that blasted the Northeast a few weeks later, inclement conditions are exacerbating the shortages that business owners and their customers are experiencing. Typically, when substantial storms are in the forecast, demand surges as consumers prepare by stocking up before hunkering down. But with supply levels low already as they are, the items and foodstuffs that Americans would typically find easily aren't as widely available.

Aaron Terrazas, director of economic research for the trucking network firm Convoy, told The Weather Channel that it's not unusual for product availability to diminish when blizzards and nor'easters are in the forecast.  But what makes these storms more problematic than those of the past is the supply chain's poor performance before now.

"Given all the other disruptions in supply chains going on right now, be it the Omicron wave which has kind of meant labor availability is pretty tight, port disruptions, input production disruptions ... all that amplifies the supply chain disruptions with these major storms," Terrazas explained.

Winter weather is another obstacle standing in the way of supply chain normalcy.Winter weather is another obstacle standing in the way of supply chain normalcy.

Izzy snarled traffic, canceled flights
One such major storm was Izzy. Affecting large swaths of the country, Izzy produced massive volumes of snow and ice that led to blinding conditions and several of the nation's thoroughfares, such as Interstate 81. As multiple news outlets reported at the time, Izzy led to hundreds of car accidents on I-81 in Virginia that ground traffic flow to a halt. Many of those vehicles involved in these crashes were big rigs with time-sensitive goods needing to be delivered. Izzy also canceled or delayed thousands of flights, The Daily Mail reported.

Terrazas pointed out that prior to the pandemic, winter storms like these pushed back delivery windows by a few days, five at the most. But given all of the other issues that were already causing shortages, items will likely take longer. This is especially true for products prone to spoilage, such as fruits, vegetables and dairy. Plus, since winter lasts approximately 90 days, the next major storm may be right around the corner, complicating matters that much further.

As a potential workaround, shopping experts recommend picking up a few extra items whenever you need something, like buying two rolls of paper towels instead of just one. Additionally, as Terrazas told The Weather Channel, try to shop around at as many stores as you can to see what the inventory situation is like at those locations. Generally speaking, major retailers typically have the most available, given their resources and because they're given priority status by producers.