Tea in the time of COVID

Apr 29, 2021

Tea in the Time of COVID – From teas and coffee beans to paper products and packaging, importers are reporting on the various reasons that COVID-19 is slowing international logistics to a crawl. Covid-19 is making the imports of products from international markets more difficult, and our products are no exception.

Increased demand for tea over the last year has been a blessing to mail order companies such as ourselves.  At the same time, the disruption in the supply chain, causing shortages and an increase in the time it is taking to secure and receive products, has increased our workload and our anxiety (hence our new Calm herbal blend!).  All supplies from teas, herbs, bags, tins etc. are increasing in cost and are decreasing in availability.  These shortages have left us scrambling to secure, either by pre-buy or with contracts, everything we will need for the next year. 

We’ll break down the biggest challenges in the industry and the specific challenges we are facing at Simpson & Vail.

Shipping Tea in the Time of COVID

Increased demand for a wide range of products, such as PPE and medical supplies, exercise equipment, office and school items (that were needed to transition to a work/study from home model) as well as increased purchases of home goods, is wreaking havoc on shipping resources.  With many companies vying for space on limited shipping containers as well as lockdowns overseas and countries facing employee shortages due to quarantining employees, the easy flow of goods from East to West is all askew. Domestically, dock workers and truckers are in lockdown and quarantine making off-loading, receiving, and transporting goods in a timely manner challenging and near impossible at times.

Air shipment and container shipment prices have seen sharp increases that we predict will continue for quite some time.  As a result, prices in the USA, and at S&V, have risen slightly with the possibility of increasing again over the summer as more products arrive from overseas.

Securing a place on shipping containers is increasingly more challenging and the results are that our orders from overseas are taking at least double or triple the time it used to take from the time we place an order, to compiling and securing passage on ships.  Once the ship arrives, we are seeing an increase in the time taken for the ships to dock and clear customs, in some cases more than the 10-14 days we usually account for.  Luckily, our teas are arriving at New York ports which are faring better than West Coast ports right now.  While we’ve heard of extended waiting periods at West Coast ports, we are finding that there is only a slight delay on the recent shipments that have arrived in Port Elizabeth of our teas.

Another problem importers are facing is the steep cost increases for shipping.  Container shipments have increased by three and four times as much as even a year ago with no signs that these costs will come down any time soon.  In some cases, air shipping has become a less expensive option, which emphasizes how expensive sea shipping has become. 

To add to the unpredictability and rising costs, domestic U.S. trucking costs are up as much as 200 percent, due to rising costs of diesel fuel in recent months and increased demand for shipments. And while there is some chatter that trucking costs may start to come down, UPS and the US Post Office both took price increases early in 2021 with possible price increases again this year.

Tea and Herb Supplies

For some estates and growing areas, teas and herbs have been picked and processed in a timely manner, however, the shipments have been delayed waiting for space on shipping containers.  Another factor in the supply chain breakdown is the shortage of supplies due to lockdowns.  Many tea and herb growing areas, like the rest of the world, have seen periods of quarantine and extended lockdowns.  This has made it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to pick and produce teas for market. 

Factor in adverse weather in some places, like India, that are affecting the crops and we are expecting to see more shortages this year.  India has been affected by weather events, such as droughts and hail, that are causing harvesting numbers to be lower than expected.

Packaging Supplies

Other interruptions we are now experiencing are in our packaging supplies.  Our tin and bag companies have all asked for yearly projections so they can make sure they can secure a steady flow of products to cover our needs.  We are seeing steadily increasing costs for these supplies, especially the tins. 

We will keep shipping!

We’re hoping to be able to anticipate accurately all of our needs for the coming year so as not to see any disruptions in our offerings.  I’m sure we may have to alter some things on the fly, for example a different colored tissue paper or box for gifts, but after everything that’s been happening over the last year, we think these changes will be minor and not cause any inconveniences.

Storage challenges

With increased purchasing to cover our needs we have had to take a hard look at our storage capabilities.  We are soon implementing changes in our warehouse to increase racks and move around items to accommodate larger purchases.  They say no one likes change but we’re all really excited here to make changes that will increase our productivity and ensure our ability to continue offering wonderful tea and herbal blends.

Retail Store

Our retail store has been closed for the past year.  There have been a variety of reasons besides the obvious reason of trying to keep all employees safe.  We took out all the shelving in the store many months ago to set up tables for packing gift boxes and orders so employees could be socially distant.  We have also used the retail store for overflow of supplies (boxes and packaging, etc.).  It has been essential for us to have this space available for use.

Now that the case numbers are decreasing, and staff is almost vaccinated we are planning to re-open the store.  More on that later though.  We do know that we will still need some of the space in the store for overflow of items and packing, so we anticipate that the store will be a little smaller than it was before.

The Future

We’re excited about some of the changes happening here; and while there may be some hoops we have to jump through to secure products this year we are hopeful that there won’t be too many disruptions in bringing you your favorite beverages! 

Thank you all for your support over the years.  We appreciate your business and look forward to, hopefully, seeing you in person soon.

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