U.S. consumers hit by rising prices for Fourth of July fireworks

For the fireworks industry, shipments are still stuck at U.S. ports ahead of the busiest selling season of the year. Production and shipping issues are expected to extend into thefirst quarter of next year

Containers are seen at Phases I and II of the Yantian International Container Terminal (YICT) in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen 

di Lindsay Dunsmuir

Washington - U.S. consumers alreadygrappling with surging prices for air fares, rental cars andsome hotels this Independence Day holiday weekend have anotherheadache to add to the list: the cost of fireworks. "All companies had to go up this year. We didn't have achoice," said Sharon Hunnewell-Johnson, president of GalaxyFireworks in Tampa, Florida, which owns four retail stores and70 seasonal locations across the state.

She has had to raise prices on some fireworks by between 15%and 35% due to the impact of a global shipping backlog for theChinese-made goods. Last year, she paid between $10,000 and$13,000 per shipping container of fireworks. It now costs morethan $30,000 and continues to rise. A dearth of shipping containers and port bottlenecks haveaffected multiple industries as the world regains its footingfrom the depths of the COVID-19 crisis, and backlogs alsothreaten to disrupt the Christmas shopping season. For the fireworks industry, shipments are still stuck at U.S. ports ahead of the busiest selling season of the year. Production and shipping issues are expected to extend into thefirst quarter of next year. "Our transit times have been wildly erratic," said Ben Muzzey, sales manager at Spirit of '76 Fireworks, a whole saler and retailer based in Columbia, Missouri. Some of the company'sshipments, which usually take about a month to arrive, havetaken up to three months. He estimates they are currently only able to fulfill between65% and 70% of their orders. The increasing costs and supply crunch comes at a time ofrecord demand for backyard fireworks celebrations in the UnitedStates. In 2019, 273 million pounds of fireworks were used,according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, whichrepresents 250 member companies.

Last year, that rose to 404.5million pounds as the pandemic juiced demand. That remains part of the problem. In a typical year, thereis usually extra inventory on hand but last year's record salesleft stocks depleted. "All inventory was exhausted. Demand was unprecedented during the pandemic," said Julie Heckman, executive director ofthe APA. While it may be more difficult for consumers to source fireworks as July Fourth draws near, there is one silver lining.Many large, professional fireworks displays were canceled in 2020. Those companies' fireworks sat unused in their warehouses,ready for this year. "They sat on their inventory for the whole year. They wereready to go last Fourth of July," said Heckman.

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