The U.S. market is experiencing a surge in demand for consumer packaged goods, but lingering supply chain issues are still holding back some categories from reaching their full potential. One prominent issue U.S. distillers are facing is an ongoing shortage in glass bottles. 

“Glass seems to be really holding up a lot of brands from being able to fulfill purchase orders to distributors,” said Paul Monahan, Chief Operating Officer at Matchbook Distilling Co. in New York. Matchbook is a contract distiller that bottles everything in house. “We work with brokers and manufacturers for all different size projects and everyone seems to have the same response: ‘It’s out of our control and it’s crazy.’”

Why is there a glass shortage? 

As frustrating as the current situation can be, taking time to understand the cause of the shortage may save you some time, money, and future headaches.

“The U.S. has a limited number of glass furnaces to begin with,” explained Brett Atlas, Senior Vice President of MJS Packaging. Atlas has been in the packaging industry for two decades and says he has never seen a shortage quite like this one.

Because glass production has migrated to overseas factories, glass fell victim to the current global shipping container shortage. Atlas claims that shipping containers are drastically more expensive than in previous years and are frequently delayed or lost at the port. At the same time, the demand for spirits has spiked to unexpected levels throughout the pandemic with alcohol consumption in the U.S. rising 2% last year, marking the largest gain since 2002, according to IWSR.

As a result, U.S. brand owners are turning to domestic manufacturers to attempt to circumvent the freight delay issue, but that has caused domestic facilities to overheat with demand and increase pricing. 

How can you prepare for the glass shortage?

While there is no quick solution, there are paths that can be taken to accommodate and innovate during this time. 

Re-evaluate your priorities

The most important thing that can be done to deal with a unique challenge like this is to reprioritize your attention on the issue and plan ahead. Entrepreneurs often prioritize the consumer-facing elements like production and marketing, but in the current climate securing materials like glass in advance will give you the upper hand over those that fail to prepare.

“Those things should be on the forefront of everybody’s mind, not just the things that bring a smile or are the first topic of conversation with anybody when you’re talking about your intended brand that you’re looking to create,” said Monahan.

Adapt your forecast

Some Matchbook Distilling Co. clients have had success securing three-month orders, while other clients have even secured full containers of glass from overseas, accounting for delays and paying to store excess if necessary. 

“I always encourage everyone to forecast ahead and if it doesn’t work, chances are, unless you have a custom mold, you can sell your glass to somebody else who’s in need of it,” said Monahan. “Simply because that could be an easier solution to recouping funds than trying to get more glass in a time of need.”

Have a plan B for bottle shape 

Custom molds can also create further challenges during a glass shortage. Consumers often make purchases with their eyes, so a custom mold from Italy or Spain can be very tempting, but those molds are not readily available in the same way a standard glass shape is. 

“If you’re a brand that has a custom mold, I would make sure the factory can guarantee capacity for you,” said Atlas. “If they can’t and you don’t have a backup, I would make sure you have a suitable stock option that’s at least similar to what your package is.”

Maintain a strong relationship with your supplier

In fact, in addition to preparation, communication and a strong working relationship with your glass supplier can ultimately be the most useful keys to staying ahead of the shortage. Your supplier can provide you with a range of solutions that will assist your brand in forecasting and planning.

“As a company, we’re working harder than ever to find backup sources and creative solutions,” said Atlas. “Whether it’s coming up with financial arrangements to help our customers, or whether it’s taking more inventory than we normally would and working out payment plans with them to make sure it’s there and protect them however we can. We’re even working occasionally with competitors to come up with exchange agreements. Anything we can do to help our customers.”