Empty shelves: International supply chain and shipping delays broaden

By Brenda Harwood of the Star, Dunedin

Temporary shipping delays caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic – leading to shortages of products across New Zealand industries – are likely to continue until the end of the year, experts say.

Supply chain issues are affecting pet food supplies, the automotive repair and hardware industries, vehicle imports and building supplies.

Dunedin Gardens New World owner Brendan Murray said most grocery lines appeared to be supplied reliably, but some imported goods were getting held up.

This was the case with cat food, with stocks of important brands Iams, Whiskas and Friskies running low temporarily.

He believed shipping delays were the cause.

“There is definitely more on the way, we are just waiting to hear when,” Murray said.

“Some has already started coming in this week, and a lot more in the next few weeks, so we should be back to normal soon,” he said.

A Countdown spokeswoman said there were global challenges with sea freight, leading to shipment delays nationally, plus congestion at Auckland and Tauranga ports.

This meant shortages of several brands of cat food, especially Whiskas, although supply should improve as shipments arrived.

Foodstuffs corporate affairs head Antoinette Laird said it was fortunate that New Zealand produced more than enough food for everyone, meaning the impact of Covid-19 on the global supply chain caused only minimal effects here.

“From time to time there have been some intermittent delays on some imported goods, often a matter of a boat coming in later than expected,” she said.

As it may take a month, or more, for pet food supply to return to normal, pet owners were encouraged to research suitable alternatives to their regular brand, in case it was not available.

Shipping delays were definitely affecting the automotive repair industry, Pit Stop Dunedin franchise owner Daniel Cresswell said.

It was particularly difficult to get vehicle parts from Asia through the dealership process, and he faced delays of up to 12 weeks for some items.

“We had a client who failed a warrant of fitness on an LED light for a wing mirror, a non-repairable part, and we were told 12 weeks for a new one to arrive,” Cresswell said.

“And we have been told that for numerous parts, especially out of Japan, when it normally takes only two weeks.”

Electronic automotive parts, such as devices to interface between a car’s wiring and a trailer, were hard to get because of a worldwide shortage of silicon chips, he said.

Cresswell said there were challenges with the supply of automotive oils and fluids in New Zealand as well.

“That’s something that could become a big problem – some industries use a massive amount of oil,” he said.

Nationally, the Motor Trade Association had identified issues not only with international shipping and manufacturing, but also delays at the ports of Auckland and Tauranga, sector manager repairer Graeme Swan said.

“Our members are reporting ongoing issues,”he said.

The more common service items, such as oil filters, air filters, and spark plugs, were readily available, but electronic components were more difficult to source, he said.

“There are big issues with computer chips for vehicles, which are taking quite some time to arrive, leading to delays for motorists.”

Larger components needed by panelbeaters, such as replacement car bonnets, were also slow to arrive because of limited freight space.

The congestion at the ports of Auckland and Tauranga were also slowing down the arrival of goods in the south, he said.

As the shipping delays were outside New Zealand’s control, they would likely be a fact of life for some time to come.

Swan hoped the roll-out of vaccination programmes across the world would help to resolve the issue in the next year.

Supply chain a big 'juggling act'

Port Otago chief executive Kevin Winders said disruptions in the international supply chain, because of Covid-19, were having a “knock on effect” across the globe.

“We get disrupted by the other links in the chain, and their delays flow through to us,” Winders said.

International shipping companies were engaged in a massive juggling act, as they tried to maintain their schedules in the face of constant delays and changes, he said.

“This means that some of the vessels that would usually come in to Port Otago weekly may not come one week, and then there will be double the next week.

“They are all moving around the world in rotation and, when things get out of whack, that causes problems.”

Once a ship arrived in Port Chalmers, it would take only two days for it to be off-loaded and the goods forwarded to the customer, as normal, Winders said.

To combat the disruptions, some international shipping lines were bringing in vessels known as “extra loaders”, which could transport delayed cargo to its destination.

As Port Otago was predominantly an export port, it needed a good supply of empty containers to keep goods moving through – ships on weekly rotation would drop off “empties” and load up with full containers.

“However, if a ship is delayed a week, then we don’t get the empties, which causes a backlog of goods waiting at the port,” Winders said.

“If that happens too often, the port fills up and we get jammed up.”

New Zealand was in the midst of peak export season at present, with apples, kiwifruit, meat and dairy “all going strong”, he said.

“So, for the shipping companies, it’s a giant juggling act, and the disruptions are a real challenge for the planners.”

The team at Port Otago was also constantly adapting to keep the supply chain running.

“I can see the disruption going on for some time to come, we could be like this through until Christmas.”

On the plus side, New Zealand exports were going extremely well at present, which was very pleasing to see, he said.

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