Global helium shortage affecting Sioux Falls balloon sales

Graduation is fast approaching, but the shiny, flying balloons reading “Congrats, Grad!” might not be as common around the holidays this year.

Several pockets of the country are running out of helium as a worldwide shortage ensues, and the Sioux Falls balloon scene is feeling the pinch.

“I haven’t worried about it in the past, but this year I did…this one might be the worst yet,” said Gary Krekelberg, owner of Party Land in Sioux Falls.

There have been a few helium shortages over the past two decades, and while the industry anticipated one, Krekelberg said it was coming too soon.

“Although if you had asked me (two weeks ago) it would have been a slightly different story,” he said.

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His supplier was able to find another source of helium, but it was still difficult to get it, and although the price of helium also rose, Krekelberg said he “ate” the last price increase. to try to keep balloons affordable for its customers. .

Another problem for Krekelberg is the supply of balloon latex. There are about 10 colors he hasn’t been able to get in months, and he said he might only get half an order.

“It affects everything,” he said.

A shortage of helium is driving up the prices of balloons to celebrate graduations and other occasions.

Stores began preparing months ago for helium shortages

In anticipation of the helium shortage, Party America’s David Hoffman began stocking up on helium in January.

“If I had to pay then what helium costs now – yuck. That makes me a little nervous,” Hoffman said.

Queues have lengthened at businesses where people try to find balloons for graduation, making it a busy season for the balloon industry. Although Hoffman has tried to keep prices low, he asks his customers to be patient with supplies.

Party America limits the number of balloons people can buy to five, but they can be any size.

In addition to balloons, helium is also used in the medical and military field for different instruments, and these industries are given priority when it comes to helium supply.

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 actually meant helium was in surplus since many industries were not at full capacity and weren’t using as much helium, a change that ended the last deficit that lasted from 2018 to 2020. But now the demand is expected to grow 2% to 3% every year, according to The Balloon Council, a national organization.

What causes helium shortage?

Several factors contribute to the helium deficit that is currently occurring.

Unscheduled maintenance and plant shutdowns in recent months in Texas and Qatar have compounded the supply problem, and four of the top five helium suppliers are rationing customers by 45-60% of contract quantities, According to Physics Today.

A new helium plant in Amur, Russia, closed in January after an explosion and has yet to reopen. The war in Ukraine may also affect the reliability of helium supply from Russia, and another plant in Algeria has been closed due to gas shortages resulting from the war.

“It’s not the perfect time,” said Ryan Egan of Queen City Balloon Bar. He said he informed customers in advance of supplies and prices, which also increased. The company rations helium-filled balloons for pre-booked parties.

“We wonder week by week if we’re going to have a new supply,” Egan said.

But a lack of helium doesn’t mean customers can’t have balloons. Air-filled balloons like arched garlands and centerpieces are always options.

“It’s definitely a disruption,” Hoffman said, “but we’ll work on it.”