Apr 12, 2019
An Inflated Industry

Lately in our industry, there’s been a spotlight on balloons. Specifically, what’s inside balloons has been the focus: we have a helium shortage. On the surface, we know what it means. But why did it start? It goes much further than a simple lack of natural resource.

Party & Halloween Retailer spoke with Greg Nash of AGP Helium about the shortage. Nash informed us that it began in June 2017 when the ports in Qatar were blocked by their surrounding countries. “Qatar produces almost 30 percent of the world’s helium,” said Nash. “The countries bordering it accused them of supporting terrorism and harboring terrorists.” This is where the shortage originated.

Other factors include increased space exploration; more MRI machines being used around the world (helium is used to cool MRI magnets); the automobile industry started using helium in airbags to minimize burns caused by the previous chemical reaction used to inflate the bags; and the US Bureau of Land Management controls the inventory of almost 70 percent of the world’s helium. They auction off a portion of the helium once each year. The auction was held in September, where the helium was sold for 135 percent more than it sold for the previous year, and one company purchased all of the helium auctioned.

Companies and retailers are feeling the effects of this shortage. And they’re not sure what to do or when it will end. Dan Flynn with Qualatex has been noticing mixed signals from helium suppliers regarding the expected shortage timeframe. “Most estimates are the supply will be restricted through this year, though availability should increase in 2020,” he said.

Nash echoed Flynn’s findings … in a way. He said the price of helium isn’t expected to drop to the low levels we’re used to, for the next several years at least. “As more sources and more technology becomes available, prices will level out,” he said. Until then, it’s going to be a rough road for helium-filled party decor.

Tiffany Morrisett with CTI Industries said it has been responding to customers expressing concerns by developing a line of oversized 14-inch balloons filled with air that are heat-sealed, ideal for what’s trending in celebrations this year.

Helium has, however, been discovered in Tanzania and Russia. The extraction from these sources will take time, but we can expect the infrastructure to be put in place in the next couple of years.

BalloonIt is a company that said so long to helium a long time ago. It has focused on perfecting the air-filled balloon by adhering clusters to reusable fixtures and is doing well in the balloon industry.

Helium shortages tend to be cyclical. With the research that has been going into harvesting helium as a byproduct of nuclear fusion, the long-term future of helium certainly looks promising, at least that’s how CTI sees it. Until the helium shortage subsides, practicing alternatives, such as cup-and-stick method and BalloonIt’s tried-and-true helium-free method. Keep yourself informed on the current state of helium, and share your ideas on social media platforms to help others!

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