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Product Shortages Lead to Paper Chase

The product shortage trajectory seems consistent with the past year and worse in some cases. Shortages have included home building supplies, computer chips, toilet paper and food. But one often overlooked industry — printing — has significantly struggled. Paper products required by sustainable printing businesses are hard to come by, and in some cases, industry professionals are literally having to chase down paper.

Of course, we can count on Michigan to flex its agricultural muscle, providing an ample supply of locally sourced vegetables; beans; and fresh meat such as beef, poultry and pork. However, the damper on paper availability continues to affect the production of materials such as textbooks, leisure reading materials, magazines, commercial forms, first-class mail, label supplies, newspapers and more.

Sheridan Books, a leader in the printing and publishing industry, is well-acquainted with the volatile state of paper availability. Senior Sales Executive Mike Johnson said the struggle to secure coated and uncoated paper continues.

“North American printers struggle as mills are on allocation,” he said. “Where mills used to keep excess inventory, they no longer do. So mills are peeling off that inventory to supply anxious, desperate printers with the paper they need to keep the presses running to the point where now they have no surplus inventory.”

Recent strike action at a leading paper mill, UPM, hindered the acquisition of paper products for companies such as Sheridan. While the strike recently ended, printing industry leaders are still concerned that market tightness is not likely to recover soon due to backed-up workloads for order management and supply chain teams.

In addition to consolidation and mill shutdowns, a spike in demand for corrugated, brown packaging paper; sanitary products; and paper to replace plastics to create a greener planet has led mills to pivot to these recession-proof, higher-margin markets.

“The fine-paper market, primarily book printing, makes up only about 5% of the global paper market. So, we don’t bring a big stick into the fight, which means these mills are more dismissive of our needs than those markets where they know they’ll make a greater profit,” said Johnson.

Previous print and publishing options were plentiful, ranging from one-color through four-color printing on a selection of coated, uncoated and lightweight text stocks. However, with less availability, options are dwindling.

“I urge my customers to remain flexible, as I expect disruptions in this sector to last throughout 2022 and possibly into 2023,” said Johnson.