If I hear of something enough times, I know it is time to pay attention. For the last 18 months there have been grumblings from our importers of the hardships of getting sake stateside. "Ports are backed up." "Sake is stuck on cargo ships for weeks." "Not sure when we will get another shipment."
Our relationship with our importers is critical to our business. It is something that is not as easily known by our customers primarily because if things are seamless, there is no need to bring it to light. But the importer and the hustle they perform to get the sake from the [often remote] Japanese brewery to the US retailer is significant. And lately that hustle has required herculean effort.
Every bottle of sake we sell makes the long journey across the Pacific Ocean to a west coast port and on to the wine country. There are truck drivers and warehouse personnel involved as well as port workers and shipping crews on each side of the ocean, so doubled. I have identified a few factors that are contributing to inventory disruptions in this supply chain.
Prior to COVID shipping containers were "stuck" in parts of Asia as a result of trade issues with China. Those "stuck" cargo ships literally could not bring the product across the ocean and thus began the bottleneck. Then COVID compounded the logistical problems with restrictions and shutdowns further limiting the ability for people to move products. This was an issue at every juncture of the supply chain, not just shipping. As the pandemic has worn on, we have also seen issues with employees returning to the workforce in smaller numbers. There are just fewer people to move products that are already jammed up. All of the previously mentioned are now being exacerbated with increasing fuel prices.
Admittedly, it is impossible to predict every speed bump. However, most predictions indicate that through [at least] next Spring we will need to be particularly vigilant and mindful about all the variables that can impact the supply chain. Our goal remains the same: work diligently with our breweries, importers, and support staff to ensure our customers can continue trying and enjoying the best quality Japanese imported sakes.