Supply chain squeeze threatens Christmas gifts and festive food

Don’t tell me you’re going to say the C word? It’s way too soon to talk about Christmas surely?

It is and it isn’t, but mostly it isn’t. Supply chain issues stretching all the way from Sligo to Shanghai mean we may be facing a winter of discontent.

What kind of shortages?

Anyone looking for new cars and tech will struggle because of a chronic deficit of silicon chips all over the world, while the flat-pack kings and queens of Ikea have predicted shortfall in Ireland of about 10 per cent this winter.

But what has any of that to do with Christmas?

Because the next three months are when most Irish consumers spend most of their money and when they demand for everything skyrockets. Anyone keen to deck their halls with plastic baubles might be well advised to stock up soon while industry sources at home and across the Irish Sea are predicting supermarket shortages that may not rival Soviet-era Russia but will be noticeable.

What is behind the shortages?

A hellish trifecta comprising Brexit, Covid and container shipping.


Costs have gone through the roof. The impact of the Ever Given ship getting itself wedged in the Suez Canal earlier this year is still being felt up and down the supply chain, while the cost of hiring containers has soared with demand far outstripping supply in many places. According to a piece in the Economist this week, “the average cost of shipping a standard large container (a 40ft-equivalent unit, or FEU) has surpassed $10,000, some four times higher than a year ago”.

Is container cost the only issue?

No. Covid-related shutdowns at key ports in the far east have slowed traffic dramatically. Then there are companies keeping container ship vessels in ports in the European Union and the United States rather than sending them back empty to China, which has an impact on traffic going the other way.

But Santa Claus is unaffected, right?

He’ll be grand, he has his own unique shipping model to fall back on. However, toymakers, sellers and of course parents are facing challenges. This week Smyths Toys warned people to get themselves sorted out earlier than ever. It stressed that this year it would be “particularly important. . . as global shipping and container shortages are causing supply issues in many parts of our lives”.

And what’s the story with food?

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