The onset of the Coronavirus pandemic brought about acute shortages of toilet paper, masks, ventilators, common household goods and more. The global supply-demand imbalance was unprecedented, holding lessons to help mitigate these kinds of disruptions in the future, if heeded.
As we progress, hopefully, towards the end of the global pandemic, and people are increasingly able to go outside and get back to “normal”, they will want to do things they’ve always done. One of those things is to celebrate.
In the U.S. July 4th is a national holiday. In Canada July 1st is a national holiday. Both days of celebration, as well as other similar days around the world, are marked by fireworks. But at this stage of the pandemic, wouldn’t you know it, there is now a concern about a shortage of fireworks.
What is going on? And what is the Fireworks Supply Chain?
The History of Fireworks
Fireworks are generally considered to have originated in China in 200 BC. By 800-900 AD the Chinese were mixing saltpeter (potassium nitrate), sulfur and charcoal into an early gunpowder like mixture. Marco Polo brought fireworks to Europe and the evolution of fireworks continued.
Throughout this time pyrotechnicians, or alchemists, continued to advance this technology, including the addition of elements so as to provide enhanced colours and shapes, various beautiful effects, and more elaborate displays. All of this time they were increasingly used for more and more celebrations, big and small.
Thanks to these pioneers fireworks today are used in celebrations around the world. New Year’s Eve, Christmas, July 4th in the U.S., Bastille day in France, July 1st in Canada, Diwali in India, the Sumidagawa festival in Japan, Guy Fawkes night in the U.K., Chinese New Year, and many more occasions are all marked by amazing fireworks displays.
The Fireworks Supply Chain
According to Wikipedia the various elements used to make fireworks include: aluminum, barium, caesium, carbon, chlorine, copper, iron, lithium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, oxygen, sulfur, strontium, titanium and zirconium. Mining is required to obtain these materials.
The American Chemical Society states that fireworks consist of an aerial shell, or tube, which contains gunpowder and the various chemicals (or stars) that give the fireworks their colour. These stars are formed in different shapes and include an oxidizing agent, a fuel, a metal-containing colorant and a binder. The bursting charge and fuse trigger the explosion of the fireworks.
Fireworks are largely manufactured in China, providing 99% of your back yard fireworks and 70% of professional fireworks. Given that they are largely made manually, the low cost of manufacturing in China, along with their expertise, is the controlling factor in this sourcing situation.
Given the source of supply most of the fireworks imported into the United States are shipped across the ocean into California for redistribution throughout the country. They are shipped too numerous retailers for purchase by consumers like you and I.
The Current State of Fireworks Supply and Demand
We have enjoyed fireworks for centuries, and in some cases millennia. Despite that in 2021, on the backs of a global pandemic, we are facing a fireworks shortage. What is going on?
A factory explosion in China, factory lockdowns and limited capacity, curtailed transportation, port closures and loading/unloading delays, shipping backlogs and delays, container shortages, and the Suez Canal blockage are all resulting in shortfalls in supply. Shipping costs have increased dramatically. Prices are increasing accordingly.
And while supply levels are being restricted, demand has increased significantly. Not surprisingly as pandemic related restrictions are being lifted people want to get out, to celebrate, and to enjoy fireworks on those occasions where fireworks displays are commonplace.
All of this is resulting in a shortage of fireworks in 2021.
The pandemic impacted Supply Chains across the globe. The importance of Supply Chain became known to everyone in government, in business and in society. When you can’t get toilet paper, and when your healthcare professionals can’t get the mandatory supplies they need to save us all, then people get a wake up call.
That there is a fireworks shortage a year and a half after the pandemic started should not really be a surprise. All of the factors that drove shortages in other Supply Chains are equally applicable to fireworks, and any other goods for that matter. Taken in context a fireworks shortage is rather frivolous when you consider the life and death nature of the pandemic which most of us, but not all of us, have lived through.
Still there are many aspects of our day to day life, like fireworks, that people would just like to get back to as we find our way past the pandemic. If we hope to forestall, or at least mitigate, any inevitable future shortages we must have the intelligence to learn the lessons of the pandemic and apply them now.
There is a very real danger however that people will forget what we just went through and go back to their old ways of doing things. And these people should not be surprised that when the next disaster happens more shortages will occur.
And then the fireworks will really fly!
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Originally published on June 22, 2021.