Has it really been almost a year since the U.S. and a good portion of the planet went into quarantine?
Hard to believe. Here at AMMEX, we shut down the home office on March 17, 2020. Most of us have worked from home since.
About a week earlier, the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 an official pandemic. Since then, we have endured a year of recovery and setbacks and confusion and, for many, economic misery.
As everyone in the disposable glove business knows, March 2020 is also when worldwide demand for gloves took off. That put enormous pressure on the market and created unprecedented demand it still struggles to catch up with.
Just another pandemic? Hardly
At first, prices were fairly steady as suppliers sold through their on-hand inventory. Most people in the industry, many with decades of experience, thought the coronavirus would be just another epidemic, like SARS and swine flu, that came and went quickly. Glove makers knew that they needed to increase production; what they failed to grasp initially was by how much.
Then the chain reaction hit the marketplace: Raw material shortages. Workforce limits imposed by movement control orders. Overwhelmed supply lines.
In late spring, disposable glove prices started going up. More price hikes followed. By autumn, gloves were more expensive than ever.
Now, in the first half of 2021, everyone—from manufacturers to end users—has to adjust their expectations on an almost weekly basis.
Answers are hard to come by
A lot of our customers, distributors, and end users ask us what is going to happen. Our best answer is: Everyone is adapting. Every facet of the coronavirus affects how we live our lives. We keep getting new information, but it never seems to be enough.
It seems certain that high demand is not going away. Manufacturing capacity and supply chain remain constrained; container ships have been stacked up off the coast of California, causing further backups. That likely means no major reduction in glove prices anytime soon, although some glove makers have said they anticipate a leveling off sometime in 2021.
Shortages of nitrile gloves will continue until more nitrile butadiene rubber is available, which probably won’t happen this year. Vinyl gloves are readily available, although vinyl still struggles to overcome its reputation. Although it is not known for heavy-duty barrier protection, vinyl is versatile and more affordable than nitrile or latex.
The U.S. and other Western nations hope to get a handle on COVID-19 coronavirus with expanded vaccinations. In developed nations, successful vaccine distribution will likely help alleviate pressure on hospitals. That means fewer admissions and, theoretically, a reduced demand for PPE, including gloves.
No quick or easy fixes are imminent
Most of the world, however, will be focused not on vaccinations but on basic health, hygiene, and safety. Bloomberg is predicting that it will be seven years before the world achieves 75% coverage with a two-dose vaccine. That means instead of bickering over who gets vaccinated, the majority of the world’s 7.8 billion people will be doing their best just to survive. And they will need disposable gloves.
There is not a lot of clarity surrounding either the novel coronavirus or the disposable glove market at the moment. One thing that seems assured is the pandemic is not going away for a long time, if it ever does entirely. Another is that gloves will play an important role in our continued recovery.
For now? Work with a reliable partner, and get as much detail as possible, to ensure in the short term that you and your clients have product moving forward.