When the pandemic hit, nobody was quite certain how to handle it. And since stay-at-home orders were a central part of public safety, manufacturing across a number of sectors stopped or slowed. That was the case for some in the latex industry. There were a number of clients who asked Luckett to "turn off the spigot" and stop or slow their latex purchases.
There also were some latex production drops, which led to some shortfalls, especially as demand for some products—such as PPE—rose.
All in all, though, Luckett said the latex industry was lucky. The natural rubber sector, she said, wasn't hit as hard as some of the other sectors. In fact, she contends that some of the major shortages and disruptions—the microchip shortage, for instance—has tempered the impact of natural rubber shortages.
"They actually masked some of the shortfalls we had in the natural rubber market," Luckett said. "So overall, I think, we were pretty lucky, but it has been tough on inventories in the United States."
Moving forward, Luckett said the key will be in learning how to manage the challenges. That means prioritizing the most urgent problems while keeping a focus on the important issues.
Luckett characterizes the urgent issues facing the latex industry as those related to skyrocketing operational costs, supply chain viability, and shipping and logistical bottlenecks. They're issues that have weighed heavy on the industry for 18 months, and they're issues that are likely to persist. They are the kind of issues that, if left unmanaged, could have a detrimental effect on the industry for years.
"What we see now in the natural rubber market is the conflict between the important—because we certainly have some incredibly important concepts and forces out there—versus the urgent," Luckett said. "And I would say that, for the last 12 to 18 months, the urgent issues have come much more to the forefront than any of the important issues."