Cedar Balls–“Grown in USA, Made in China”?

Yesterday I went shopping with my son Elliot. It was the tour of big box stores…we went to Best Buy for a computer bag for me, to Target for clothing for him, and then to Bed, Bath, and Beyond for a new tea pot for me.

Then I made an executive decision….we weren’t going to leave Bed, Bath, and Beyond until we found a nonfood product made in the U.S. It took a while, but we finally found some beer mugs and some coasters that were U.S-made, so we were free to go.

But along the way, I picked up something very odd…a bag of eco-friendly aromatic cedar balls that were labelled “Grown in USA, Made in China.” Grown in USA, Made in China???

If I’m interpreting the label correctly, cedar is grown in the U.S. (“100% eastern red cedar—a self-renewing, non-endangered resource” according to the website). Is it possible that the wood is shipped to China, turned into little cedar balls in Chinese factories, and then shipped back to the U.S.?

Something is very weird about the economics here. I’m going to contact the company and ask.

Comments

  1. CompEng says:

    Very interesting that shipping trees to China, cutting them up into little balls, and shipping them to America could be profitable.

    • Never even mind the “green” and “renewable” aspects. Well, fossil fuels are strictly speaking renewable, given enough time.

  2. Maybe the cedar balls are a byproduct of something else the Chinese factory is producing?

  3. I normally have failed utterly to find any consumer product made in the USA, except once I found some upscale jam.

    You have piqued my interest with the cedar. As with many other export/import scenarios, I keep pondering the possibility that there must be some peculiar effect I’m overlooking regarding exchange rates. The labor component of course represents a tremendous advantage for China but it just cannot be that large relative to the cost of manufacturing, packaging and transportation — the production of smooth spheres is surely automated. Often the packaging is based on our own U.S. scrap paper/cardboard exports.

  4. Karl Smith says:

    Perhaps Cedar is being shipped to China wholesale, made into many things – one of which is balls – and then the balls are shipped around the world, including to America.

    • Mike Mandel says:

      Perhaps. But one would think that it would be a fairly simple process to turn cedar into balls (and quite attractive ones at that)

  5. Please follow up if/when you hear back from the company!

    Many companies with production in China are serving customers worldwide; what percent of the cedar ball market is in the US? What percent of this company’s customers are in the US?

    Are there any US suppliers of cedar ball processing equipment?

    Even if the answers for this company are available, how do we get the same answers for manufacturing in the aggregate?

  6. Matt Steinglass says:

    When I moved to Vietnam 8 years ago, it was already economical to import Canadian pine, turn it into garden furniture, and sell it to customers back in North America. I would imagine the cedar balls are, as others have suggested, a byproduct of the rest of the wooden furniture business.

  7. Ken Voytek says:

    I found this article fascinating — does help to unravel some questions and paints an interesting perspective….

    http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/6525

  8. If you were just doing logs into ceder balls it takes about 6-8 gallons of fuel per log round trip (LA to Shanghai). It probably costs more to ship the logs cross country than it does to ship them to China.

    Shipping a container from LA to Shanghai and back ran $3000 back in 2010 , and rates have declined from there (there’s a considerable amount of idle capacity I couldn’t find a US index but it’s 900 for the Asia to Europe route today). You could probably squeeze boards from 10 logs into a container pretty easily) so you’re you’re probably talking $200-300 back then and 100-150 today to round trip the logs.

Trackbacks

  1. […] MANDEL had a lovable post a other day that he felt symbolised a epitome of a Chinese defeat of manufacturing. Having dared […]

  2. […] that about two months ago I put up a post entitled Cedar Balls–”Grown in USA, Made in China”?. It created a fair bit of discussion (see, for example, “Wood to China: Cedar balls and […]

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