High demand and short supply caused by global disruption brought about by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic has retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers stretched.
Covid-19 hasn’t only had dire impacts on the health of people around the world, it has also forced factory closures and imports and export of goods to be delayed affecting businesses globally.
Delays in shipments and freight coming into New Zealand coupled with high demand for certain products has left stock and shelves empty for some retailers.
The Herald takes a look at the retail categories that have been the most disrupted through the global pandemic – and which items could be hard to find in the months ahead.
Retail NZ says there are a number of challenges with international supply chains at present, mainly because of reduced production levels overseas, and significant delays with the management of inbound freight from Asia.
This has meant that a variety of medicines, appliances, fitness equipment, bicycles, hardware, clothing and some homeware items have been in short supply, particularly those sourced from China and other Asian markets.
The delay in some goods is becoming a cause of concern for Christmas stock with retailers gearing up for this period now.
Greg Harford, chief executive of Retail NZ, said while most items above were still available in New Zealand, the breadth of brands and options typically available were not.
Harford told the Herald it was “hard to know” if these short supply stock issues would become long-term problems.
“We’ve seen retailers looking for alternative sources of suppliers and alternative products so it is likely there will be product available to fulfil consumer needs, but if you are after a particular model of product it may take a little bit longer to get in,” he said.
Wait times for certain products are between two and four months at present.
Prescription paracetamol is in short supply, with a number of pharmacies completely out of the Pharmacare subsidised painkillers when contacted by the Herald on Tuesday.
A notice on the Pharmaceutical Management Agency’s (Pharmac) website outlines that there continued to be a supply issue of the tablets.
Due to the impact of Covid-19 the supplier, API Consumer Brands, was experiencing decreased capacity at manufacturing plants and difficulty getting flights for the stock out of India.
In March, Pharmac restricted the dispensing of paracetamol 500 mg tablets due to global stock issues caused by the pandemic.
Pharmacare is New Zealand’s only contracted brand of funded paracetamol tablets.
“If you get a prescription for it, there is unfortunately a shortage in the dispensary stock,” one pharmacist told the Herald.
“There’s been an increase in demand recently … and the wholesalers haven’t been able to get anymore at the moment.”
Another pharmacist said: “It’s a nationwide [shortage] because of Covid.”
There was no shortage of branded paracetamol sold over the counter, she said.
Paracetamol is the highest-volume prescription item in New Zealand and up until March over one million tablets were dispensed per day.
Pharmac director of operations, Lisa Williams, said stock of the drug was arriving in the country in much smaller quantities than usual.
“Whilst the majority of community medicines have now returned to all at once dispensing, paracetamol 500mg tablets will remain on one-month dispensing due to ongoing manufacturing and transportation difficulties,” Williams said.
Appliances and electronics
Retail analyst Chris Wilkinson said microwaves, TVs, vacuum cleaners and microwave ovens were in particular short supply, along with consumer electronics.
“We’re still facing this vacuum that home working created with everyone wanting to get new computers, laptops, desks … and suppliers haven’t been able to respond to those because there’s been a global [increase in] demand,” Wilkinson said.
Order wait times for washing machines, clothes dryers and fridges at some retailers were currently between two and four months.
Noel Leeming was recently pinged by the Commerce Commission for selling products it did not have in stock, and Harvey Norman too has faced shortages in stock in a growing list of whiteware and appliances.
Harvey Norman declined to comment.
The Warehouse Group, owner of Noel Leeming, The Warehouse and Torpedo7, said it was facing some challenges with stock of bikes, all cooking and small appliances and consumer electronics due to demand elsewhere in the world.
Bread makers were one item Rod Duke’s Briscoe Group has been struggling to get its hands on.
Sales of the loaf makers took off just as Covid-19 hit and supplies of these had been “pretty much exhausted” ever since, Duke, managing director of Briscoe Group, told the Herald.
“Supplies are just dribbling in and going out so they’re not even really hitting the shelves – that’s fairly widespread across the industry,” he said.
Most other small home appliances that Briscoes sold were in stock – but there was a limited range of makes on offer, Duke said.
While loose-leaf tea retailers say there is no issue sourcing and bringing stock into the country at present, it is expected to become a problem in the months ahead.
One small retailer the Herald spoke to which imports its own tea products directly from North America said it was not running short of stock as it had ordered in bulk in advance.
“Because we’ve been quite proactive we haven’t gone short, but we have had to use some air shipments.”
Some tea leaf wholesalers, however, were currently out of stock and waiting on shipments, the Auckland retailer said.
“There has been a suggestion that some of the crops, some of the Asian Darjeeling teas that would normally be picked this year, either they haven’t been able to be picked because of Covid-19 or the quality will be different.”
The retailer said a number of her customers had bought supplies from her in advance over fears of a shortage. “I know there are some issues with supply overseas.
“At the moment I wouldn’t necessarily say there is a shortage, but … we’re having to really stay on our toes.”
Tea wholesaler Tea Total said it was not facing an issues sourcing stock at present, except for some premium non-mainstream teas such as a white tea.
Shelley Magee, managing director of Tea Total, said workers not being able to pick tea crop could affect supply levels but it had not yet flowed through.
“What people are saying in the greater world is that potentially tea is going to be limited, and it’s probably going to go up in price for that reason, but it is clearly not here yet,” said Magee.
Duke said it was also difficult to source bikes, treadmills and other fitness equipment at the moment.
“It’s a bit like irons, you can’t get every [brand] at one time. There are stocks sort of available, but you can’t be very particular about the brand and the features, unless you don’t mind waiting a while,” he said.
Shortages across all categories were the result of shipment delays coming out of China and “extraordinary demand” from consumers in New Zealand and worldwide, he said.
“There’s a double whammy. Because the demand is so very, very high that stock that is coming in is getting sucked up very, very quickly.”
Duke anticipated that demand would die down to near normal levels over the next three months and shortages would only be a short-term issue.
The Warehouse Group also said it was facing some supply issued relating to fitness gear.
Sales of face masks have been at an all-time high since New Zealand was placed into lockdown at the end of March. After the move to alert level 2, elastic has become a hot commodity as businesses turn to making masks to cater for the surge in demand.
Retailers and wholesalers alike are struggling to source the thinner grades of elastic. This comes as the Ministry of Health last week urged New Zealanders to add face masks to their emergency supply kits in the case of a further outbreak.
Retailers across the country were out of stock as a result, as were suppliers and businesses based in Australia. The issue was global, Trendy Trims owner Colin Lowe told the Herald.
Clothing and apparel
Wilkinson said that there were also shortages of some clothing and apparel, and some international brands had reduced their manufacturing output as part of foreseen challenges ahead.
“It’s been a double-edged sword,” Wilkinson told the Herald.
“Some retailers are picking up stock which has been orphaned by retailers going into receivership overseas, and other retailers have been scrambling around trying to fulfil their needs because they’ve seen increased demand – it’s all over the place.”
Big-name brands had been impacted by their supply chains being impacted by Covid-19 which had a knock-on effect for retailers, he said.
“It has meant that in some cases smaller markets like New Zealand have missed out.”
Wilkinson said it was likely supply chain issues would not come right for a couple of years as all contributors to the supply chain underwent restabilisation of their business.
“After all the challenges the retail sector has faced and New Zealand being able to get back on the horse again so to speak, the last thing we need is to be facing supply challenges.”