Can’t Get Toilet Paper? Hoarding May Not Be To Blame.

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We’ve all seen it.  Store shelves emptied of toilet paper and paper towels.  Early morning lineups for what little supplies arrive each day at places like Costco, Walmart and Safeway.  In fact, weeks into the coronavirus emergency, many Americans still have yet to replenish their supply of toilet paper and other paper goods.

But, despite all of the talk of hoarding, industry experts say that while people filling their closets may have been an early reason for the shortage, it no longer is.  And, with stores limiting purchases to one package per household, why are store supplies still running out?

Here was the scene recently at the Rohnert Park Costco, as seniors lined up for toilet paper and paper towels, among other things.

The answers, say industry experts, lie in the way toilet paper and paper towels are produced and supplied across the U.S.

There are actually two supply chains, one for retail (homes), and one for commercial.  Often the products bear very little similarity with one another.  Home goods come in manageable rolls, are softer, and have very little recycled content. By contrast, the commercial supply chain often involves giant rolls destined for work places, restaurants and factories.  And they are often produced in entirely separate plants.

So why not funnel the commercial supply to the retail market?  Sounds simple, but the industry says while that can happen, it is not like flipping a switch.  First, raw material suppliers have to be notified and supplies rerouted.  And since different factories are often involved in the two different supply chains, the retail ones have to gear up for more production.

And, there’s apparently another issue.  With Americans staying at home in numbers never before seen, the demand for retail products that are used at home is also soaring.  In fact, the industry estimates that the home demand has risen by 40 percent, while the commercial demand for work places and restaurants has plunged.

Get this.  Americans have spent $1.4 billion on toilet paper in the past four weeks, a 102 percent increase from the same period a year ago. Part of that was hoarding, but lots of it was more flushes at home.

So, factories are still producing lots of toilet paper and paper towels.  But with demand from consumers stuck at home during the emergency soaring, production for the home still hasn’t.  At least, not yet.

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