bottle shortage

Packaging Pains

Chemical manufacturers speak out on bottle shortage

The pandemic has presented a range of unexpected challenges within the spa industry. For the chemical manufacturing side of the business, securing packaging has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks of the past year. 

Chemicals are in demand, but in some instances, manufacturers have needed to quickly shift course to keep up. Packaging shortages have forced many to rethink their day-to-day processes in order to stay in business.

For Brandon Price, owner of Medicine Springs in Helena, Montana, the shift has been substantial. The packaging facility the business had been using, which also housed all of Medicine Springs’ packaging equipment and was located in another town, shut down abruptly when business became limited to essential services only.

“We no longer had a space in a co-packing facility to use,” Price says. “We had to set up an appointment, [bring it all] back and set up our own manufacturing.” 

Setting up in-house was just the first step in the new packaging process for Medicine Springs. Price says the whole team had to take on additional responsibilities, and still maintain their regular networking and sales.

“So now we have our equipment, but we have many more roles to play,” explains Price. “We’re making all the calls, making the connections, doing the training and getting those sales — then coming back to our equipment and making all the products ourselves and packaging them.”

As one might expect, reduced packaging availability has resulted in higher costs. It’s an issue that Scott Nichols, regional sales manager for EasyCare Products in Fresno, California, has seen play out over the past year.

Boxes being filled on the EasyCare production line

“In our particular case, some of our plastic bottles became unavailable for a period of time,” he says. “All of the smaller sizes were being procured for hand sanitizer during the pandemic outbreak.”

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Additionally, Nichols sees shortages on popular sizes of plastic caps — like 1.5-inch, typical on 1-gallon and half-gallon bottles used for bleach — plastic roll labels and cardboard box sticker-type labels. Forest fires, border restrictions and quarantine issues delayed lumber and wood pulp products from entering the lower 48 states and drove cardboard box prices up accordingly.

Thinking outside the box has become common practice during the pandemic and product packaging is not the exception. Price says Medicine Springs’ 8-ounce spray bottles were all being used for sanitizer, so the company moved to an entirely different type of bottle and nozzle. To keep customers in the loop, website photos were updated, and explanations were added about the temporary packaging changes.

Medicine Springs had to wait until last September to have its original bottles back in distribution, and there was also difficulty with other packaging. “Getting Mylar to form our pouches comes out of China; there’s not a manufacturer in the United States that does that, and of course that was shut down,” Price says. “We were semi-fortunate that we saw that one coming when we heard about the bottles. We had grabbed extra rolls of that for our equipment and then found a place with a colored bag that would also heat seal. Between the two of those, we continued to manufacture all products and get ourselves through the crazy part of the pandemic.”

Planning ahead seems to be a common lesson of doing business in the pandemic. “The chemical companies that planned proactively didn’t suffer much at all,” Nichols says. “In our case, we purchased an extra six months-plus of items that could potentially be in high demand due to the pandemic, utilizing multiple sources instead of just one.”

Haviland Pool & Spa Products in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has also been working hard to meet needs during the packaging shortage. An official statement from the company reads:

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Haviland has worked tirelessly to meet the demand and deliver the products our customers need using a variety of creative solutions. Just like other manufacturing in our industry, several of our vendors have significantly increased their lead times for packaging. As a result, we have worked with individual customers to meet their particular needs. For example, if our company provided a product with a particular package ‘look or feel’ where alterations weren’t an option, we have worked around these extended lead times to meet market demand in the most efficient manner possible. 

However, in several cases it was more important to have a water treatment product available for consumers and dealers, regardless of how it might look on a shelf. With that in mind, we made creative adjustments in packaging such as changing a cap color, substituting a different carton, or placing a water treatment product in a similar but different container that was more immediately available to avoid long lead times. Our customer response to these substitutions over the last several months has been very positive, with the understanding that these changes will not be for the long haul.”

In an official statement, Sigura reports it is doing the following to combat the packaging shortage:

  • Generally expanding number of suppliers to offset individual supplier issues
  • Globalizing supply to create new supply options
  • Simplifying SKU mix and moving to simpler packaging where possible
  • Allocating product as needed across its customer base