When The Supply Chain Issues Hit The Office

Several years ago, our office went from the old-fashioned Bunn coffee maker that made entire pots of coffee to Flavia coffee machines that make one cup of joe. The Flavia machines use little packets of coffee, like those pictured above, that you insert into the machine to get your brew. My coffee of choice is the Pike Place roast. It’s a medium roast coffee that Starbuck’s describes as follows: “A smooth, well-rounded blend of Latin American coffees with subtly rich notes of cocoa and toasted nuts, it’s perfect for every day.”

And I do, in fact, drink it every day when I’m in the office. Multiple times every day, in fact.

Yesterday we ran out of the Pike Place, which caused me to experience a momentary flutter of disquiet. Later in the day, the guy who fills our coffee stopped by to refill the supply of our Flavia coffee packets. I was relieved to see him and told him I was sorry I had guzzled so much of the Pike Place. He shook his head sadly and explained that there was no Pike Place to replenish the supply on our floor. He noted that our firm was totally out of the Pike Place, and when he called the warehouse to see why our order of Pike Place wasn’t delivered, he was told that the local warehouse was totally out of it, too. He then put up a hand-lettered sign above the coffee machine to explain the situation in hopes that it would prevent Pike Place drinkers from rioting in the hallways.

We’ve all heard of the supply chain issues that the country is experiencing, post-pandemic. I had not heard of coffee being affected, but apparently I wasn’t paying attention, because there have been stories about the coffee supply being affected by the weather and shipping delays, and shipping snafus caused by congestion at ports have compounded the problem.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things a shortage in one particular coffee packet isn’t the end of the world; I can just shift to Cafe Verona or even (horrors!) decaf in a pinch. (There always seems to be a very ample supply of decaf, doesn’t there?) But the tale of Pike Place coffee packets in one office in one city shows just how precarious the supply chain can be.

Kinks In The Supply Chain

We’ve been reading a lot about supply chain issues. Yesterday I had my first direct experience with the problem when I went to do grocery shopping for my holiday baking–as reflected in the above photo of yellow sprinkles and cream cheese.

Normally, I would buy Philadelphia Cream Cheese for my baking. It’s the brand that we had in the house when I was a kid, and I figure if it was good enough for Mom, it’s good enough for me. But yesterday our grocer had no original Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Instead, in the cream cheese cooler there was a little sign explaining that due to supply issues, they didn’t have some of the offerings you would normally find. There was a Philadelphia brand substitute, that promised one-third of the fat of normal cream cheese, but who wants to try a low-fat alternative in a Christmas cookie recipe? So I bought the Yoder’s cream cheese, which was only standard cream cheese that was available, and I am hoping that it measures up to Philadelphia standards.

The same thing was true in the baking aisle. To my surprise, there were no green and red sprinkles available, which are the sprinkles I typically buy for Christmas baking. The only sprinkles available were these yellow sprinkles, and the shelves for most of the other festive toppings, like chocolate sprinkles or tiny balls, were empty, too. So I opted for the yellow sprinkles, figuring yellow sprinkles are better than none at all.

I had similar experiences elsewhere in the store. It’s not like the shelves were barren; there was lots of stuff for sale. But if you were looking for specific things, like a particular brand of cream cheese, or flour, or sprinkles, you might encounter a void, and an explanatory sign, and have to find a substitute. It’s not what we are used to here in the land of plenty.

Of course, I can make do with yellow sprinkles, and a different brand of cream cheese or flour; Christmas cookies are not a life-or-death thing. But the little signs and the shortages made me wonder what else has been affected by the kinks in the supply chain–like necessary parts, or crucial medicines or ingredients for medicines, or other essential items and materials.

The supply chain problems are concerning. Let’s hope they get this issue figured out, and soon, so that we don’t experience some really significant disruptions.