Maui Business

“Being Nimble and Proactive” Helps Maui Retailers Avoid Holiday Supply Chain Issues

By Andy Gross
November 18, 2021, 10:00 AM HST
* Updated November 19, 9:00 AM
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When it comes to the fast-approaching holiday season, there will be turkeys, toys, stuffing and wine but these items will likely cost more and might not be widely available.

On the other hand, there might not be distilled vinegar, bleach, candy canes or that special brand of bacon you crave.

The only certainty this year is uncertainty.

Some toys are stuck in factories waiting to be shipped and everything from pickles to automobiles will cost more as distributors pass on rising shipping costs.

Corporate spokespersons for major retailers such as Safeway, Costco, and Foodland among others declined comment on potential shortages due to supply chain problems caused in part by the COVID-19 pandemic for proprietary reasons.

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But Nelson Okumura, president of VIP Foodservice said there will be enough food, just maybe not the exact brands as usual.

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“Certain suppliers have had issues, but not all. Food is not as bad a problem as some durable goods,” he said.

Frozen seafood and meats at Island Grocery Depot. File photo Maui Now / Kiaora Bohlool.

Okumura cited unlikely shortages in distilled vinegar and frozen mahi mahi filets among others due to supply chain problems.

He said products coming from Asian markets will face significant delays.

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“We keep our customers supplied but sometimes use substitute brands,” he said.

VIP Foodservice’s primary clientele are hotels and restaurants but they also supply smaller independent groceries like Takamiya in Wailuku and Pukalani Superette.

Being nimble and proactive is the name of the game for Pukalani Superette President Megan Nakashima.

“The supply chain problem is real. We were proactive and secured the turkeys we needed for our meal packages early. We don’t sell the whole frozen turkeys in the store though – that’s Foodland’s game.”

Indeed a Foodland meat department employee at the Pukalani Terrace store said turkey supplies for now, were good and the cases were full.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance Live, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said supply chain bottlenecks at the country’s major ports will likely persist for the foreseeable future.

In the interview he said the supply chain bottlenecks triggered by the pandemic continue to have multiple effects on the US economy. One is the consumer angle of shoppers uncertain about the availability and quantity of desired goods and the other is companies raising prices to cover shipping shortages and costs which could have an inflationary effect.

Nakashima said she sees the issue in both global and local terms and as a matter of relationships.

“My opinion is that supply issues are going to be global, but it also depends on if your distributor and the sales rep of said distributor sees you as a priority. Same goes for their relationship with the manufacturers. Who gets put to the bottom of the stack? Is it based on sales or location? Because we’re not going to win that contest. We do have winning personalities though. Some of our sales reps are proactive and fight for us, and you can see that in the products that we have in steady stock,” she said.

“So far we’ve been ok with our supply. The stuffing is touch and go since Love’s closed down. We’re seeing if the Hawaii Foodservice Alliance can get us some of the Love’s stuffing. We might be slightly insulated from a Thanksgiving sourcing problem since we make Thanksgiving Everyday bentos daily.”

The supply shortage is causing gift givers some angst and anxiety.

A consumer retail poll conducted in September by Oracle Retail Analytics indicated that 52% of those polled had already begun ordering holiday items months ahead of time.

The survey also revealed gift givers are worried products may not be available or will take too long to arrive. Findings include:

  • 28% of respondents said they were anxious that the products they want will be more expensive due to scarcity.
  • 27% are worried desired products will not be available.
  • 17% are concerned that family and friends will be disappointed if they don’t get the gift they want.
  • 16% are concerned that favorite holiday treats, such as pumpkin spice lattes, won’t be available.

Finally, the possibility of a sweet and traditional holiday staple shortage.

“Now, we might have a candy cane shortage,” Nakashima mused. We ordered a bunch of stuff for Christmas and our distributors have been very mute on where it all is. We should have started to see it come in already.”

Andy Gross
Andy Gross is an experienced journalist who has worked many places both abroad and in Hawaiʻi. He says he has never lost his curiosity, compassion or empathy for the people, the world and the conditions that surround him.
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