This is not a supply-demand issue. It's a logistical nightmare — a big, tangled mess of empty shipping containers, grounded airplanes and consumer demand surges.
And there isn't much anyone can do. In fact, Whitney Luckett is down to waiting — waiting for the cargo ships to move latex from Southeast Asia to customers in the U.S.
"I am still sitting on January cargo that has not moved from Vietnam," said Luckett, founding president of Southland Rubber Inc. and principal owner of Simko North America L.L.C. "That cargo normally would be in manufacturing plants by now, and I can't get it out of Vietnam."
She's not alone.
Across the North American rubber industry, product manufacturers, custom mixers and suppliers said they have seen three- to four-month delays in the shipping of goods and materials. It's a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, both in the way it forced shutdowns worldwide and in the way it shifted consumer demands, spiking the need for products such as personal protective equipment, electronics and at-home gym equipment.
But the underlying problem may not be what you think.
"People think we have a container problem," said Mahesh Srinivasan, associate professor of supply chain and operations management and director of the Institute of Global Business in the College of Business Administration at the University of Akron. "It's not quite that there are not enough [containers] in the system, the problem is: Where are they?"