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So how are we faring and where do we go from here?

We ask four industry leaders about Supply Chain issues and their expectations for 2022 and beyond...

Q Do you have supply chain issues and if so, what has caused them?

Sarah Orecchia: 2021 was challenging as our GMP manufacturer's delivery lead time doubled, although they have ordered more machines to keep up with demand so our production lead times in 2022 will be better than they were pre-pandemic. In addition, we are fastidious about sourcing top quality ingredients and we buy many of them direct from European suppliers and producers – Brexit has not only complicated importation but has also added to time and cost.

Our manufacturer’s delay in production was down to increased demand for supplements as well as new supplement brands being created as well as ingredient import issues due to Brexit.

Graeme Hume: If any, it’s been Brexit documentation adding time to shipping but we’ve now built this in. Some brands are suffering packaging availability but generally we’ve increased stock levels so it’s not affecting us.

Mark McCarty: Our main issues have been limited to obtaining containers which has resulted in shipping costs increasing up to 10-fold and delays of two to three months during the summer and autumn. Delays unloading once in the UK ports has also added one to two weeks’ delay.

Shipping cost increases have been driven by compressed demand and the problem of actual containers which have been unavailable. Recent blockages in the Suez Canal and post-Covid demand have further added to issues. EU land shipments have been relatively smooth, but additional paperwork and increased transport costs have added to final product costs.

Steve Brockie: One of the main drivers behind the success of A.Vogel is that we grow our own plants. Not only does this mean we can process plant material promptly from harvest, which gives a higher level of actives versus products produced from dried plant material, but the ownership of the entire process from seed to shelf leaves us less exposed to the global supply chain disruptions which have impacted competitors that source from markets such as China and India.

Q Have you experienced any product shortages?

Steve Brockie: The pandemic brought three big tidal waves. Firstly, with immunity – back in early 2020 the thirst for our fresh extract Echinaforce products was incredible. We have never seen anything like it. It is a huge testament to our production and logistic staff and the hours they worked right through lockdown that we were able to help the population fight colds and flu by supporting their immune system.

Then, nerves, stress and sleep. During the winter of 20/21 we saw an alarming uplift in sales of Passiflora, Valerian, Avena Sativa and St John’s Wort as the impact of the lockdown started to wear people down. As lockdown eased in the spring and the weather improved and some level of normality returned for most, this started to ease off.

But then, as people started to return to normal life we saw a huge uplift in sales of our Milk Thistle, Biotta Juices, Comfrey/Symphytum Cream and Silicol skin products.

We are very fortunate that our staff are incredibly well educated on immune health, and we believe that’s the reason why we have seen minimal disruption in workforce levels.

Sarah Orecchia: We invest in keeping high levels of stock in our warehouse so have only been caught out for a couple of brief periods over the last two years. The pandemic made planning tricky, especially as we make a couple of immune system supplements which were in high demand. Thankfully our manufacturing, printing and packaging partners are all really wonderful to work with and usually, if they are able to, will pull out the stops to help us out when we are in a pinch.

Mark McCarty: We have experienced delays to our Gin Gins ginger shipments and Himalayan salt lamps which has now been rectified. However, this did result in pre-Christmas shortages which was very inconvenient for our customers.

Q What have you learned from the pandemic and Brexit?

Mark McCarty: The main thing is to plan at least three to four months further ahead and maintain additional stocks. We’ve had great support from our suppliers who have been as frustrated as we have been, especially in relation to the increased paperwork requirements.

Sarah Orecchia: One of the silver linings is that people have become more educated about their health and have come to value prevention more through adopting healthier lifestyles. A well-functioning immune system, good gut health, managing stress and getting enough sleep and exercise, as well as ensuring one consumes the right foods, all have positive impacts on one's natural defences.

As far as Brexit goes, for us and almost everyone we speak to, it's made trade and doing business abroad much harder. We've been using consultants as it's so complicated and the rules change often; the paperwork and minutiae boggles the mind. It's been really frustrating. I read yesterday that Fortnum & Mason, who have been sending food to the EU since the First World War, has stopped delivering to Europe due to border chaos, endless paperwork and increased costs. We have managed to get orders into Ireland, which is one of our important markets, but the additional cost and time involved has been huge.

Graeme Hume: In the pandemic, the government is able to [rude word] everyone except Big Pharma. Has Brexit made the industry stronger and more resilient? No.

Q What are your expectations for this year?

Sarah Orecchia: I feel good about this year- it's wonderful that people have become so much more interested in natural health and have become more discerning too. The quality of natural products is improving all the time. One of the reasons we launched our range was our dismay at how so many supplement brands were using mostly synthetic nutrients with loads of fillers, binders and excipients. It's much more expensive to produce high quality plant and food-sourced supplements using therapeutic amounts of active ingredients but people are really starting to notice what their supplements contain and are demanding better.

I think as we ease out of the pandemic, people will go back to buying fewer supplements. However, I think they'll buy better and I suspect some of the brands which are less natural or full of sugar and synthetic ingredients and are less transparent on their sites about where their ingredients come from and where they are made, might go by the wayside.

Graeme Hume: I’m always positive and things can only get better.

Mark McCarty: We have been fortunate and have experienced our two best trading years, partly due to expanding our offering but in the main by managing our stock levels and picking up sales in existing areas. We continue to trade at a good level and will continue to drive growth with new product development.

Steve Brockie: With Omicron behaving more like a traditional cold/flu virus, Echinaforce is starting to fly off the shelves again. Overall there seems to be an uplift in immune health as its recognised that the vaccine alone doesn’t provide 100% protection.

As it’s increasingly difficult to see a healthcare professional face-to-face, the role that health food shops and pharmacies can play with minor self-limiting conditions is crucial. To support this we have ramped up our retailer training and education material.

That being said, we are sure there will be numerous surprises along the road until the nation finds the new normal.

Our supply chain Reboot 2022 panel

Sarah Orecchia Founder, Unbeelievable Health

Graeme Hume MD of Pravera and ORGANii

Mark McCarty Director, World Foods Brand Management

Steve Brockie CEO, A.Vogel UK

We’ve been experiencing supply chain issues with products being out of stock for weeks and even months. But that’s where we rely on our staff because they know our product range inside-out and they’re able to recommend an alternative to customers or source an alternative product to put on the shelves instead. We’re constantly plate-spinning but we’re getting the hang of it now.

Something that’s important to us is supporting local businesses. We stock loads of products made by independent businesses based in Bristol and the surrounding area, and you can’t really beat that relationship between two small independent businesses.

Jordan Clements, Wild Oats, Bristol

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