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By Dan Grinberg

Global disposable glove demand skyrocketed with the COVID-19 pandemic causing shortages and price increases. And the current coronavirus surge is keeping glove demand at extremely high levels.

While there is some light at the end of the tunnel with a vaccine, giving those shots will require even more glove use. Shortages and high prices in the glove market will be with us well into 2021.

To make matters worse, the world’s largest maker of rubber gloves – based in Malaysia – expects a two-to-four-week delay in deliveries after more than 2,000 workers at its factories were infected by the coronavirus, raising the possibility of even further supply disruptions during the pandemic.

Keep in mind the impact that Malaysia’s factories have on the world wide marketplace. Malaysia is the world’s biggest maker of rubber gloves – nitrile and latex – accounting for around 60 per cent of global exports.

With that, what you need to know is that distributors are working really hard to keep their customers supplied with gloves. It’s a big challenge. Here’s an overview of the marketplace from the most expensive products to the least.

Nitrile will continue to have the most severe shortages and the highest prices. Nitrile is tops for durability and chemical resistance and is in the highest demand. However, nitrile prices are becoming prohibitive for some healthcare facilities and restaurant operators.

Latex gloves, made from natural rubber, are a good nitrile alternative. They are less expensive than nitrile and are form-fitting with great touch sensitivity. Even so, latex glove supplies are tight with some sporadic shortages.

A new type of glove is now available that can stand in for both nitrile and latex. It’s a synthetic made from an advance vinyl formulation infused with a small amount of nitrile. Some refer to these as “vitrile” gloves and they look a lot like nitrile. Elara’s Versafit vitrile glove can be used for medical and foodservice applications.

Next in line are traditional clear vinyl gloves. Vinyl glove availability is improving. However, vinyl prices, while less than nitrile, latex and Versafit, are still much higher than before the pandemic.

That’s where hybrid polyethylene-based gloves such as Elara’s Digifit come in. They offer a significant cost savings versus vinyl. Hybrid gloves are form-fitting like vinyl though a little thinner. We’re seeing a big increase in demand for Digifit from operators switching from vinyl.

The lowest cost option are poly gloves – loose fitting plastic gloves. These are great for quick-change applications, though not ideal for replacing more durable, form-fitting gloves.

The bottom line – know your glove options and be flexible, as availability and prices in the disposable glove market will continue to change.

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