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Holiday tamales challenged by global supply chain issue

Tellez Tamales & Barbacoa said the supply chain shortage impacts the taste of their tamales and what customers pay at the register.

SAN ANTONIO — Gabriel Tellez recalls feeling the effects of the supply chain for his family's businesses right after the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

"Everybody started panicking," Tellez said. "They started buying a lot more than they usually do. And that affected us with all our supplies."

Nineteen months later, Tellez Tamales & Barbacoa is pivoting due to inventory problems. The issue comes at the peak of its sales season for the tamale family business. 

Traditionally, Tellez said Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve represents their most significant customer sales, especially the week before Christmas.

"Our freezers are full right now with the tamales. Raw. Ready to be cooked," he said. "Come (December) the 24th; there's nothing left in there."

According to Tellez, they will sell an estimated 80,000 dozens (Around 960,000, if individually counted) during that span. But getting the product out is a challenge when the ingredients are not available.

"I have to order from three different people just to see if somebody is going to be able to bring it in," he said.

It's a product gamble, Tellez said, because sometimes everyone can fill his orders, and he's stuck with three times as much product. Other times no one has what he needs, like the spices for their tamales.

"Like chili powder, for instance," he said. "That changes your recipe big time."

Shortening used to make masa for the tamale business was not available either.

"We had to go to another one," Tellez said. "You know the consistency was just harder---it wouldn't mix into the masa."

He said their cost of meat got inflated by nearly $2, especially beef. 

Dr. Sergio Palacios used to own a business in Mexico that supplied lard. He is an assistant management professor at St. Mary's University's Greehey School of Business and Director of the Algur H. Meadows Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.  

"We have bottlenecks in the supply chain, in the ports," Palacios said. "We have some countries that are producing less right now."

According to Palacious, the pandemic shifted consumer buying as the economy tried to survive the initial impact of COVID-19. Now that the economy is active again, the demand is high, but the supply is too slow.

"One of the key ingredients of the tamales is, of course, corn," he said. "Corn is very scarce right now--it's a global issue."

He is also pork, another favorite ingredient for tamales, is having issues too.

But the tamales supply chain impact may get better before it gets worse.

"Hopefully, by next year, things will get better," he said.

Palacios said economic studies show the effect on other industries could last a few years.

Meantime, the work continues at Tellez Tamales. Seasonal workers to help carry the load are in short supply too. But Tellez said they would meet the customers' demand.

Some products may taste different, and the ring-up at the register won't be the same.

"The price has gone up significantly," he said.

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