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The 2021 Paper Shortage - Everything You Need to Know to Plan Accordingly

January 20, 2022

"Of all the things in life that we hold dear, I never would have thought paper could make that list. Unfortunately, paper has recently become a precious commodity. Read on for information important to all print consumers."

- Dan Paulson, President and CEO of Premier Print Group

To say that the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on global supply chains is, at this point, likely something of an understatement.

According to one recent study, a significant 35% of respondents said that delays in transporting goods and other raw materials across borders had some type of impact on their business. Severe delays in acquiring critical supplies, delays in domestic land transportation, and delays in air transportation had a "major impact on the business" of 18.6% of respondents, 12.9% of respondents, and 18.6% of respondents, respectively, according to the same source outlined above. 

Currently, there is a shortage of virtually all paper goods due to many of the reasons outlined above. This includes not only napkins and shipping materials but also printed materials, notebooks, school supplies, paper bags, paper towels, and more. It's had a significant impact on the commercial print industry and it is one that is worth exploring for a wide array of different reasons, particularly as organizations search for a solution to help stop a problem today before it has a chance to become a much bigger and more expensive one tomorrow.

What is Causing the Paper Shortage?

All told, there is, unfortunately, a large number of different factors that are contributing to the current paper shortage that we're experiencing. One of the major ones has to do with labor shortages that themselves began due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Note that this isn't a problem exclusive to the commercial paper industry - virtually all types of organizations are grappling with the same basic issue, albeit in different ways.

In March of 2020, as COVID-19 began to sweep its way across the world, countless businesses were closed - seemingly overnight. Employees were sent home and while those fortunate enough to have positions where they could work remotely continued to do so, that wasn't always the case - particularly in the commercial print industry. There are certain jobs that you just cannot perform from a home office and most of the work done in this industry is a prime example of that.

This essentially started a ripple effect where paper mills across the world began to close due to a lack of labor, which itself contributed to increased production costs. At the same time, none of these businesses experienced an increase in revenue - meaning that the products that people came to depend on were suddenly in very short supply without a viable, economical way to rectify the situation.

Another one of the major issues has to do with the aforementioned distribution interruptions and supply chain problems that are happening all over the world. It's difficult to get your products into the hands of consumers who need them if they're stuck in a shipping container at a port halfway around the country as workers attempt to relieve bottlenecks that only seem to get worse before they get better.

Because of these issues, and because of the rapid change in consumer purchasing behaviors seen in the wake of the pandemic, paper mills have shifted from making paper to making cardboard boxes for online retailers. This has been a way to preserve their revenue stream, yes - but the type of equipment you're talking about can only produce so much product in a given day. This has helped keep a lot of these organizations afloat, but it's done little to relieve the shortage of paper goods that we're all collectively experiencing.

The need for paper materials is still as prevalent as it is demanding - leading to businesses searching for any solution they can find.

How is the Paper Shortage Affecting the Print Market?

The impact of the current situation has been seen in a variety of other ways, too. Wood pulp prices, for example - the primary raw material used for making paper in the first place - have increased over 50% on average since the pandemic began. Naturally, this means that the price of paper has continued to rise.

Print production companies and commercial printers alike are also finding it difficult to source paper for their products. All businesses and retailers are finding it hard to source their paper needs that were previously not an issue at all - creating a series of issues that only seem to compound as time goes on. Some organizations have been able to pivot in the wake of these changes and they've been able to come out all the better because of it - but that isn't necessarily realistic for everyone. 

What Can Consumers Do To Plan Accordingly?

Thankfully, there are a number of steps that organizations can take to help mitigate risk from these issues as much as possible - provided that they're willing to be proactive enough to do so.

One of the most important is to strategize with your commercial print partner and plan ahead on any upcoming demands you may have. While it's true that it isn't always necessarily possible to account for seasonal fluctuations and sudden peaks in demand, being proactive and having a conversation with a commercial print partner about availability is at least the best way to get a better idea of the exact situation you face. At that point, you can make certain decisions - as tough as they may be - regarding your own business and your ability to serve your customers moving forward.

It's also crucial to provide plenty of time for print partners to source materials. If you know that the industry as a whole is expecting widespread delays, you need to build this into your own schedule and act accordingly. The reverse of this is true, too - be accommodating to potential delays because they're not necessarily the fault of your partner, but of the situation going on in the world right now.

In general, you need to communicate paper needs as soon as you can so that all parties involved know the exact situation that is being handled. It's also crucial to be accepting of potential replacements for paper materials as an entire industry attempts to make the best of an admittedly bad situation, all while getting back on its proverbial feet in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. 

In the End

For almost five decades, Premier Print Group has been proud of the reputation it's been able to earn as an organization focused on customer-centric innovation and transformation in the printing industry. It's a business focused on not only entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for exceptional customer service but also strong family values as well.

From the moment it opened its doors until now, Premier Print Group has been singularly dedicated to offering exceptional service to its customers - even in the wake of the widespread paper shortage that we all face. Organizational leaders like President and CEO Dan Paulson firmly believe that we're all in this situation together - which means that so long as we stay committed to one another, we're all going to get through this together, too.

If you'd like to find out more information about the 2021-2022 paper shortage and what your organization needs to know to plan accordingly to mitigate risk, or if you'd just like to get answers to any other important questions you may have regarding the paper shortage and how it might impact your project, pleased don't delay - contact the team at Premier Print Group today.

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