Photos courtesy of Paul Guglielmo
Here’s another unexpected example of how supply chains have been shattered by the pandemic: Glass bottles used for everything from vinegar to pasta sauces are stuck in their own bottlenecks. It drives up the prices, when you can get the bottles at all.
Much like many other industries struggling to secure their supplies, producers of premium pasta sauce and spirits are seeing the glass used in their humble containers stuck in huge traffic jams, forcing them to either absorb costs more. high, or pass them on to consumers.
Little relief seems to be in sight: Wednesday’s data is expected to show the consumer price index jumped more than 5% from a year ago, remaining near its highest level in more than 13 years.
Companies like Lindera Farms in Delaplane, Va., Have struggled to find bottles at any cost.
It has been a record season for the artisanal vinegar maker, but owner Daniel Liberson is concerned that unless a late shipment of glass bottles arrives from Italy in the next few weeks, he will not be able to package his product at time for everything. important Christmas period.
“There is a ship captain who holds my life in his hands,” said Liberson. “Basically, if something’s wrong with this shipment, I’m screwed.”
Courtesy of Daniel Liberson and Lindera Farms
Frustration boils over as ships get stuck
The problems are not at home: domestic glass manufacturers insist they are making as many bottles as ever.
“There is no shortage of raw materials for glass manufacturing in this country,” says Scott Defife, president of the Glass Packaging Institute. “The factories are all operating at full capacity to manufacture new glass containers.”
But 20-30% of the food and drink bottles used in the United States are typically imported from Europe or Asia. Many of these bottles face the same supply chain hurdles that have blocked products ranging from memory chips to holiday toys.
Additionally, since domestic glass factories are already operating at full capacity, customers whose imported bottles are delayed may have difficulty finding substitutes.
It’s frustrating for Liberson, whose vinegar is made from hand-picked wild onions and other finicky ingredients that have proven to be easier to find again this year than glass bottles.
“The whims of nature are less intimidating than the whims of what is supposed to be an organized and structured supply chain,” Liberson says with a sad chuckle. “But here we are.”
Courtesy of Paul Guglielmo
Storage and the debate on whether to raise prices
In Rochester, NY, Paul Guglielmo faced similar challenges securing 16-ounce jars for his namesake pasta sauce.
“We were told at least twice that a specific pot would not be available for at least a month,” says Guglielmo. “The pressure this puts on us is that you are afraid that you cannot find the materials. So how do you react? Well, you react by buying more.”
Just as panic buying of toilet paper last year led to empty store shelves, this type of storage can exacerbate shortages while pushing up the price.
The pint jars of pasta sauce that used to cost Guglielmo 33 cents apiece now cost 47 cents, a 42% increase before he sliced his first tomato.
Thanks to a more efficient bottling process, Guglielmo was able to absorb some of this higher cost. But he also raised his own prices at the grocery store.
“I think all along the supply chain everyone makes that decision and decides, are we going to eat all of this? Are we going to eat some of it? Guglielmo said.
As a ‘co-packer’, Guglielmo not only makes his own pasta sauce, but also manufactures and bottles products for others. This gives it a little more scale and bargaining power with suppliers.
Today, his 6,000 square foot warehouse holds many more empty jars than he would ever have bought in the past. It’s a kind of insurance policy that helps him sleep better at night, but also ties up a lot of capital.
“I walk by pallets and pallets and unused glass pallets,” Guglielmo says. “We’re going to use it. And I want it here. And it should be here. But I’m looking at it and it’s just a big bunch of money lying there.”
Courtesy of Paul Guglielmo
Buy early – if you can
Given the uncertainty surrounding bottle supply and the possibility of bare shelves, buyers are being warned not to wait until the last minute.
“We encourage anyone who wants a special Christmas bottle to start buying it now, as you may need to make a couple of trips to your local retailer,” says David Ozgo, chief economist at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.
Still, shoppers looking for certain products might go there empty-handed, no matter how early they show up.
Liberson, the little vinegar maker, is still hoping that his shipment of bottles from Italy will arrive in late October or early November. That would give her just enough time to pack her product before the holidays, which typically make up about half of her annual sales.
For now, he is storing his vinegar in stainless steel vats, and crossing his fingers.
“Listen, I’m a neurotic Jew,” he says. “And I have to tell you that causing a heart attack is the word that comes to mind.”