material shortage forces Vermont businesses to get creative | Business | Seven days


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  • Courtesy of Evelyn Henderson
  • Steve Montanez makes food coloring at Ann Clark Cookie Cutters in Rutland

Shortly after starting work for a cookie cutter maker Rutland in January, Steve Montanez noticed that a long-time supplier was struggling to supply the food coloring used in their products.

“It was a 12 week deadline and then when 12 weeks came up it was ‘Oh my God Steve, I’m so sorry. It’s going to be 16 weeks,’” Montanez said.

The company, Ann Clark cookie cutters, makes about 30,000 tin-plated steel cookie cutters every day and needs food coloring for the cookie decorating kits it sells online.

So Montanez, an accountant who owned the Vermont Truffle chocolate business, researched how to make food coloring. In mid-June, his new employer bought a food coloring mixer in Italy and was building a cleanroom to manufacture it in-house.

The company will include its own food coloring in holiday cookie making kits this year.

“I couldn’t be happier,” said Montanez, who is now director of food operations for Ann Clark and responsible for new product development.

Such global supply chain issues affect businesses around the world and inspire companies in Vermont to get creative.

Factories and shippers are understaffed; some have closed. Many of the materials needed to make items in the United States are stranded overseas in the supply pipeline. Meanwhile, consumers have freely spent on items such as household items and leisure equipment, which has driven up demand. Factories have gone into overdrive to meet demand, resulting in a backlog of containers stacked in ports and idling cargo ships in ports, waiting to be unloaded.

Ann Clark was able to afford to adapt, investing $ 400,000 in machines to make food coloring. But most companies can’t manufacture everything they use, so they source as best they can and ask customers to be patient.

To help businesses overcome emerging supply chain challenges, the Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center released a white paper this year that describes the benefits of finding local sources of materials. On the one hand, it is easier to establish a relationship of trust with suppliers who share a language and a culture, the report says.

“[Having] foreign suppliers mean living with tariffs, global politics and economies, and natural disasters in faraway places, ”it read. Business ethics and avoiding counterfeits are another concern. “The United States has some of the strongest [intellectual property] protections around the world, so working with a national supplier decreases the risk of intellectual property theft. ”

Copeland Furniture Bradford buys its lumber from the northeastern United States, but this domestic supply is also more difficult to obtain. Demand for household items drove up hardwood prices. Sawmills were closed in the first months of the pandemic, creating a backlog of orders, said Ben Copeland, director of sales and marketing.

Shipping costs have also increased sharply. According to Chris Brennan, head of trade routes at A Deringer. St. Albans Company is the largest private customs broker in the country. It now costs $ 10,500 to ship this cargo, Brennan wrote on Deringer’s blog – a 600 percent increase over the seasonal average of the past five years, he said.

Air freight costs have also increased 400% since before the pandemic, Brennan wrote.

Copeland is grateful that there is so much demand in the furniture market. But it has had to raise prices three times in the past 12 months.

“Everyone in the business is doing this,” Copeland said. “This is unheard of.”

Goods are always on the move, but in an unpredictable way. It’s easy to see in grocery stores, where empty spaces on the shelves appear and disappear. Ray Bouffard, owner Georgia Market, said that because he buys his wares from four small distributors, he is in a better position than the big grocers, like Hannaford, who have their own warehouses. When one of Bouffard’s distributors runs out of something, he calls another, and often they have it.

“It’s a moving target; the market is very fluctuating,” Bouffard said. “You might be temporarily out of something; it may take a few weeks. But if you’re out of Green Giant corn, you’ve got Del Monte or a private label. You have corn on the shelves – but not the one you’re necessarily looking for.

“My customers are delighted that we have toilet paper on the shelf,” he added.

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Cindra Conison with her dogs Cuba and Aria at Quirky Pet in 2019 - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Cindra Conison with her dogs Cuba and Aria at Quirky Pet in 2019

As with Copeland furniture, the eccentric animal, a small specialty store in Montpellier, only sells American-made products. But the dried animal parts that owner Cindra Conison sells as dog treats, such as chicken and duck feet, are not available. Suppliers to the slaughterhouses told Conison they were being held back by the labor shortage.

The Northeast Kingdom Craftsmen Guild draws its inventory from a very local area: Vermont and a small part of neighboring New Hampshire. But Amanda Weisenfeld, a longtime board member and co-founder, said the St. Johnsbury store was running out of necessary paper products over the counter, such as cardboard jewelry boxes. To prepare for the holiday season, she stocked up on boxes, bags and tissue paper.

So many customers are looking for original artwork that artists in the guild can barely keep up with, Weisenfeld said.

“People buy like crazy,” she said, noting that her peers in other art stores are going through the same thing. “The galleries, we are all holding our breath and waiting for the end of this incredible shopping spree.”

Copeland has four times more furniture orders than usual, so delivery takes weeks longer. There’s not much the company can do except ask customers to be patient. At first, he said, some complained.

“I would say the vast majority of people get it now,” said Copeland, whose father started the manufacturer from Bradford in 1975. “They’ve met him on just about anything they wanted to buy.”

Back in Rutland, Ann Clark shipped her first batch of Vermont-made food coloring to Amazon on October 29. She also sent samples to 65 cookie decorating influencers a few days later.

CEO Ben Clark – whose mother started the business in 1970 – is certain that his company is the largest supplier of cookie cutters in the country, and it is almost certain that it is the largest in the world. Decorating cookies is big business, and Ann Clark is one of the top attractions at the annual gathering known as CookieCon, in Reno, Nevada.

Many of the top cookie design artists have hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers. Georganne Bell (@lilaloa_cookies) of Salt Lake City designed cookie cutters for Ann Clark, and the company pays her royalties.

“She’s one of the best players in the game,” said Clark.

Ann Clark faces stiff competition from cookie cutter manufacturers in China, where labor prices are much lower. And although it briefly halted production over the summer due to a lack of steel, the company’s sales in the United States could benefit from supply chain and shipping issues to the United States. holidays are approaching.

“Are those Chinese cookie cutters already here?” Are they on a boat stuck somewhere offshore? Clark asked. He thinks the latter is likely.

Last year, Ann Clark’s custom cookie cutter business – popular with clubs, teams and businesses that want cookie cutters shaped like their logo – was bigger than usual. This year, he expects demand to increase.

“Everything is made in China,” Clark said. “So all of a sudden they’re going to call us.”


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