• ITVI.USA
    14,786.640
    2,951.100
    24.9%
  • OTRI.USA
    25.820
    -0.440
    -1.7%
  • OTVI.USA
    14,737.070
    2,949.900
    25%
  • TLT.USA
    2.740
    -0.070
    -2.5%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.890
    0.260
    9.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    2.930
    -0.150
    -4.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.280
    0.100
    8.5%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.000
    -0.210
    -6.5%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    1.750
    0.120
    7.4%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    3.280
    -0.080
    -2.4%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    5.000
    4.1%
  • ITVI.USA
    14,786.640
    2,951.100
    24.9%
  • OTRI.USA
    25.820
    -0.440
    -1.7%
  • OTVI.USA
    14,737.070
    2,949.900
    25%
  • TLT.USA
    2.740
    -0.070
    -2.5%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.890
    0.260
    9.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    2.930
    -0.150
    -4.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.280
    0.100
    8.5%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.000
    -0.210
    -6.5%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    1.750
    0.120
    7.4%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    3.280
    -0.080
    -2.4%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    5.000
    4.1%
American ShipperContainerMaritimeNewsSupply Chains

Commentary: What products are US consumers buying?

Containers tell the story

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates.

The record volumes of Chinese imports into the United States, and the soaring rates that have been attached to the freight, have garnered headlines for months. Looking ahead to the incoming China exports, the increase in volumes shows no signs of slowing.

Container volumes for Long Beach, LA and New York are very encouraging,” said William George, analyst with ImportGenius. “Despite being the major U.S. ports hit hardest by dropping volume due to the pandemic, they’ve returned to, or in the cases of Los Angeles and New York, surged well above their January volumes.”

Los Angeles’ new supply chain data platform, The Signal, also shows the bullish trend in volumes continuing into October. 

So what exactly is inside these containers? Based on the earnings reports of retailers, we have seen a clear shakeout between the winners and losers. So let’s roll up our sleeves and see what Americans are buying as the country slowly gets back to work.

It should come as no surprise that essential items like soap and home improvement items like stone countertops continue to top the list for the Port of Los Angeles.

The eye-popping volumes of ammunition correspond with the surge in gun sales reported by gun-makers in the spring and the recent influx of FBI background checks.

Walking sticks and umbrellas make sense, as many Americans have taken to the trails for their pandemic outings.

“August volumes surged, largely due to replenishment of inventories by big-box retailers, e-commerce and the omnichannel distribution network,” explained Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles and chief logistics officer for the city of Los Angeles. “Concurrently, retailers have begun bringing in merchandise for the year-end holidays. All those factors drove loaded imports above 500,000 TEUs, an all-time record at the Port of Los Angeles.”

In addition to the holiday products and essential items filling the containers, Matt Castle, vice president at C.H. Robinson, said some retailers like eyewear providers chose to stop shipping their products altogether because they had to shut down. Now as stores reopen, the shipment of those commodities is flowing again.

“Since many of their stores are located in malls, they were not moving inventory during the spring and early summer,” Castle said. “Now we’re seeing more and more inventory ship related to eyewear as they replenish their supply and stores reopen with precautions.” 

Source: San Pedro Bay

Crossing the country to the East Coast, in Savannah, Georgia, machinery topped the list followed by vehicles, among other products by vessel value in U.S. dollars. Savannah, home to the largest single-terminal container facility of its kind in North America, provides great insight into the mind of the consumer as well as the health of manufacturing.

“Automotive production slowed down due to COVID-19, and we’re finally starting to see it come back online but not comparable to where they were last year at this time,” said Castle. “One industry that has not slowed down is technology products, particularly laptops. With a shift to a remote environment and online schooling, we saw a large demand spike in laptops due to the pandemic.” 

In the Northeast, the Port of New York and New Jersey saw machinery as well as beverages and spirits rounding out the top three in imports.

In the ports of South Florida, apparel was the top import.

From produce to furniture, the insatiable appetite of the consumer can be seen in the tremendous volumes of containers. Amazon, which has imported more than 14,000 shipments in the past 30 days, saw its biggest pop in early September.

“As individuals and families have been in the home more, they’re finding time for various house projects and adapting their environment as they continue to navigate working from home and their kids’ distance learning,” said Sri Laxmana, vice president of ocean products at C.H. Robinson. “We continue to see high demand and inventory replenishments for DIY products compared to previous years. However, the DIY products are competing for capacity as traditional peak season freight and e-commerce retailers are importing products now to prepare for Black Friday and the holiday shopping surge.” 

Taking a deeper dive into the taste of the consumer, comfort has been a big point of purchase. Looking for a touch of lux, but not wanting to break the bank, is the surge in Walmart’s luxury cotton sheets.

“As of September 17th, Walmart’s import surge of sheets, pillow cases, polyester blankets and throws continues,” explained George. “Looking at their online inventory, you can see the tremendous demand given all the out of stocks.”

With the holidays around the corner, it’s crunch time for retailers like Walmart. SONAR shows here the past 30 days of Walmart’s imports.

“Christmas decorative goods are beginning to arrive as well, alongside a vast influx of stuffed animals, many of which are of the mystery ‘Cutitos’ unboxing brand,” said George.

The container volumes in the beginning of 2020 took an abrupt hit because of COVID-19. Now, as the world reopens, the flow of trade is moving at a much healthier clip.

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Click for more American Shipper/FreightWaves commentaries by Lori Ann LaRocco.

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Lori Ann LaRocco

Lori Ann LaRocco is senior editor of guests for CNBC business news. She coordinates high profile interviews and special multi-million dollar on-location productions for all shows on the network. Her specialty is in politics, working with titans of industry. LaRocco is the author of: “Trade War: Containers Don’t Lie, Navigating the Bluster” (Marine Money Inc., 2019) “Dynasties of the Sea: The Untold Stories of the Postwar Shipping Pioneers” (Marine Money Inc., 2018), “Opportunity Knocking” (Agate Publishing, 2014), “Dynasties of the Sea: The Ships and Entrepreneurs Who Ushered in the Era of Free Trade” (Marine Money, 2012), and “Thriving in the New Economy: Lessons from Today’s Top Business Minds” (Wiley, 2010).
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