En español | If you've found it harder to find ketchup for your burger or wood to build that deck you've always wanted, there's a reason.
A combination of factors, including the global pandemic, severe winter storms and a hacking incident have caused massive disruptions to U.S. supply chains this year. The result is new shortages of some items, continued scarcities of others and rising prices.
Leanne Greer, 50, is seeing this play out at the gas pump. She recently drove to three gas stations before finding a place to fill up near her home in Canton, Georgia. People concerned about gas shortages have flocked to the pumps, making the situation worse.
"I think if people were just acting normal, this wouldn't have happened,” says Greer, who saw lines of more than 50 cars at gas stations in her area.
Here's a look at what's currently hard to come by and why.
Thousands of gas stations across the Southeast shut down recently after a group of hackers launched a cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline, which supplies nearly half the diesel and gasoline consumed by the East Coast.
Demand for gas in several Southern states rose by as much as 20 percent, a sign that consumers were panicking over the prospect of a shortage, according to Allison Mac, an analyst for GasBuddy, a tech company that tracks fuel prices. “There's anxiety, and people are filling up, even when they probably don't necessarily need to,” she says.
The gas distribution system had been under strain for months before the attack. Fluctuating demand for fuel had gas providers struggling to hit the sweet spot, especially after the coronavirus prompted a truck driver shortage in 2020 and low fuel demands ensued, followed by unanticipated high demands from consumers and businesses.
Winter storm Uri dealt a serious blow to poultry farms in Texas and other Sun Belt states in February. Joe Sanderson, chief executive of Sanderson Farms Inc., told The Wall Street Journal that, in Texas, the storm forced the chicken company to euthanize 545,000 chicks that couldn't be shipped due to hazardous road conditions and that another 455,000 chickens died due to cold temperatures.
The resulting supply gaps caused large price fluctuations just as demand for breast and wing meat peaked during the Super Bowl and March Madness, notes Tom Super, senior vice president of communications for the National Chicken Council.
Demand for chicken also spiked during the pandemic as more than a half dozen fast-food chains joined in the “chicken sandwich wars,” adding menu offerings centered around chicken sandwiches and wings.
"It will take time and effort to eventually replace the impacted hatchery supply flocks in that region, but supply should catch up to demand soon,” Super says.
Lumber has been in short supply ever since spring 2020, when the pandemic and social distancing restrictions led many lumber mills in the U.S. to close, according to David Logan, a senior economist at the National Association of Home Builders. Production resumed at a much slower rate during the summer and has not been able to keep up with demand.
Logan called the shortage and subsequent increase in the price of lumber unprecedented and predicted that the market will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2022. “I would anticipate home builders across the nation will take a very close look at switching from lumber framing to steel or concrete framing of homes for instances like this,” he says.
Many customers are deciding to reduce the square footage of new projects and moving away from lumber finishes and flooring to save money, he adds.
A sharp downturn in semiconductor chip production has caused delays in car manufacturing just as buyers are fueling massive demand for new automobiles.
Automakers were forced to halt production during the early months of the pandemic because of lockdown measures and an expected decrease in demand for new vehicles, notes Ivan Drury, senior manager of insights at Edmunds, which tracks trends in the automotive industry. Drury says that when car production stopped, many automakers canceled orders for semiconductors, computer chips necessary for producing many electronic car features, such as heads-up displays and cellphone integration.
Demand for new cars bounced back faster than expected in summer 2020, those chips are now in short supply, and automakers are not able to produce new vehicles quickly enough to keep up with demand. “We didn't enter a recession in the standard manner, and that caught everyone off guard,” Drury points out.
Everything tastes better with ketchup, but you might not find those packets in your takeout bag these days. A surge in pandemic carryout dining drove massive demand for ketchup, but supplies have struggled to keep up.
The biggest ketchup producer in the U.S., Heinz, announced in April that the company was planning a 25 percent increase in production to keep up.
The price of ketchup packets is up 13 percent since January 2020, according to The Wall Street Journal, and increased demand has left restaurant owners and national chains scrambling for supplies. In spite of Heinz's plans to increase production, it's unclear when the shortage will end.
Just as everyone is ready for a summer of splashing in the pool, chlorine shortages have kicked in. Many Americans preparing to reopen their backyard pools will find supplies low.
Sales of personal pools increased dramatically in summer 2020, as families were forced to stay at home. Also, demand for chlorine spiked in the warmer months, making it harder to find pool maintenance supplies.
To make matters worse, the BioLab chlorine plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana, burned down after Hurricane Laura tore through the Southeast in August. The facility produced the majority of U.S. chlorine tablets and will not reopen until 2022.
The country's two other chlorine manufacturers — Occidental Petroleum and Clearon Corporation — have not been able to fill the supply gap, and shortages are set to continue through the summer.
Kelly Anderson is a contributing writer who covers features and political issues. He has written for DCist, the Society for Human Resource Management and Georgetown Magazine.