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Coronavirus: The impact on the supply chain

05 May 2020

The Cleaning & Hygiene Suppliers Association provides insight on the significant impact that the Coronavirus is having on the cleaning and hygiene supply sector.

Cleaning & Hygiene Suppliers Association (CHSA) members are facing the most challenging trading conditions they have experienced. In a survey of manufacturing and distributor members, 58% said sales had declined a little or significantly in the midst of the pandemic and 66% of respondents have furloughed employees.

Lorcan Mekitarian, chair of the Cleaning & Hygiene Suppliers Association, explained: “Our members are working hard to meet the needs of their customers in the most challenging circumstances we have ever faced. Their contribution is essential, manufacturing and delivering the cleaning and hygiene products badly needed by the people keeping hospitals, schools, factories and businesses clean and safe. This includes getting the available personal protective equipment to care homes.”

The challenge facing CHSA members to manufacture, source and deliver these products is immense. When asked, 58% of members reported growing difficulties accessing product and raw materials. It is expected that the scarcity today of some essential products will be compounded by the predicted shortage of additional products in the coming months. When asked to name the biggest issues facing their business, 42% of members cited supply chain difficulties.  

Lorcan continued: “The fragility of the ‘just in time’ supply chain combined with unprecedented demand for certain products and greatly reduced production capacity presents significant challenges. The uncertainty about whether the high volumes of products bought by customers has been used or allocated to stock compounds the challenge. Where previously demand was predictable, it is now uncertain.”

The CHSA expects supply-side shortages in biocides and virucides, gloves, disposable polythene aprons and non-woven cleaning wipes. Manufacturers are already reporting significant difficulties matching demand and, warns the CHSA, in the search for alternative products, buyers need to be alert to product efficacy, aware of the risk of inferior product.

Trigger sprays and soap pumps availability 
According to the CHSA, consumption of cleaning products with trigger sprays has significantly increased during the lock down. The volume of trigger sprays consumed by the Away From Home market is small in comparison so manufacturers of the trigger spray itself are serving the consumer market first. The result is a foreseeable shortage of trigger spay products for the next six to 12 months. The issue is the same for soap pumps. The pumps primarily being manufactured in China and Italy has caused a shortage, likely to last for the remainder of the year. 

Biocides, virucides and ethanol availability
Biocides and virucides: the CHSA is reporting exceptionally high demand for these products, placing real pressure on the raw materials. This is at a time production capacity for these materials has declined.  Chemical manufacturers are adapting, continually reformulating, but it is likely distributors will have increasing difficulty sourcing these products.

Ethanol availability

According to the CHSA, the supply of ethanol, the alcohol used in hand gels, is expected to significantly reduce. The extraordinary demand for alcohol hand gels, therefore, will far exceed the capacity of available ethanol production. 

Cleaning wipes availability
The CHSA has identified a challenge with non-woven wipes. The majority are polypropylene (PP) based, a material also integral in the manufacture of face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE).  Demand is driving up the price of PP, making it non-viable to manufacture non-woven wipes from this material.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) availability
Problems in the supply of PPE are well known. 

Major problems in the sourcing of nitrile disposable gloves are now predicted by the CHSA; already distributors are reporting a significant reduction in their availability.  Production capacity was impacted first by the Chinese New Year and then the lock down in China and Malaysia, and manufacturers are indicating supply may cease very soon. There is also a significant impact on the availability of vinyl and latex gloves.

Disposable single use aprons have seen a huge increase in demand. These have traditionally been made in the Far East, which brings supply chain challenges when demand goes up.  UK production has restarted to meet the extra demand but is not keeping up with the national requirement.