After seeing social media post began to circulate again with empty store shelves it really got me thinking, what in the hell is going on with this toilet paper shortage and are people really hoarding roll after roll. ￼
👉🏼 I spent entirely too much of my time the last couple days thinking about toilet paper and trying to figure this out. I think I got a pretty good hypothesis. ￼￼ sorry for the length, it’s just not as simple as people being insensitive asshole hoarders. ￼
The great toilet paper shortage of 2020
Around the world, in countries afflicted with the coronavirus, stores are sold out of toilet paper. Target, Walmart, shop ‘n save, from coast to coast are bare and empty with pictures usually of one lonely damage roll on feet and feet of empty shelving.
And we all know who to blame: hoarders and panic-buyers 😡
Well, not so fast.
Story after story explains the toilet paper outages as a sort of fluke of consumer irrationality. Unlike hand sanitizer, N95 masks, or hospital ventilators, they say, toilet paper serves no special function in a pandemic. Toilet paper manufacturers are cranking out the same supply as always.
It has to be panic buying, hoarding, or just being an insensitive asshole.
I’m pretty certain that has to do with not using the washroom more but where you are using the washroom. Most of the country was on lockdown and spending a significant amount of more time at home. Spending more time at home they’re using more product.
Using more product will require purchasing larger quantities coupled with social media sensationalizing stories and the great paper shortage of 2020 is born.
Most outlets agreed that the spike in demand would be short-lived, subsiding as soon as the hoarders were satiated.
No doubt there’s been some panic-buying, particularly once photos of empty store shelves began circulating on social media. Social media tends to amplify smaller issues and make them seem the norm.
There’s another, entirely logical explanation for why stores have run out of toilet paper — one that has gone oddly overlooked by majority of media coverage. It has nothing to do with hoard and everything to do with supply chains. It helps to explain why stores are still having trouble keeping it in stock, months after they started limiting how many a customer could purchase. The product you buy at the grocery store has been steadily consumed at the same rate forever.
In short, the toilet paper industry is split into two, largely separate markets: commercial and consumer. The pandemic has shifted the lion’s share of demand to the latter. People actually do need to buy significantly more toilet paper during the pandemic — not because they’re making more trips to the bathroom, but because they’re making more of them at home. With the majority of U.S. population under stay-at-home orders, Americans are no longer using the restrooms at their workplace, in schools, at restaurants, at hotels, or in airport.
The average household will use 40% more toilet paper than usual (yes, I looked this percentage up) all of its members are staying home around the clock. That’s a huge leap in demand for a product whose supply chain is predicated on the assumption that demand is essentially constant.
If you’re looking for where all the toilet paper went, forget about people’s attics or hall closets. Think instead of all the toilet paper that normally goes to the commercial market — those office buildings, college campuses, Starbucks, and airports that are now either mostly empty or closed. That’s the toilet paper that’s suddenly going unused. Sitting in warehouses and store rooms sad and lonely 😒
So why can’t we just send that toilet paper to Walmart or CVS? That’s where supply chains and distribution channels come in.
it’s not as easy as flipping a switch. It’s a different product entirely.
Talk to anyone in the industry, and they’ll tell you the toilet paper made for the commercial market is a fundamentally different product from the toilet paper you buy in the store. It comes in huge rolls, too big to fit on most home dispensers. The paper itself is thinner and more utilitarian. It comes individually wrapped and is shipped on huge pallets, rather than in brightly branded packs of six or 12. commercial paper is basically rough sandpaper that the home consumer would never purchase. It’s sh**. (No pun intended)
It’s just not the same product. Shifting to retail channels would require new relationships and contracts between suppliers, distributors, and stores; different formats for packaging and shipping; new trucking routes — all for a bulky product with lean profit margins.
There’s just not a lot of money in toilet paper. For these manufacturers that aren’t making a ton of money off toilet paper as a product line in general, it’s just not in their best interest to completely retool factories for a temporary spike. We are living in COVID and is consuming our lives but on the scale and span of time it’s only going be a year and a half.
Because toilet paper is high volume but low value, the industry runs on extreme efficiency, with mills built to work at full capacity around the clock even in normal times. That works only because demand is typically so steady. If toilet paper manufacturers spend a bunch of money now to refocus on the retail channel, they’ll face the same problem in reverse once people head back to work again and office buildings and airports are packed.
The same can be said with kegs of beer going unsold and shortages and bottled beer. It takes a lot of logistics to convert product that is earmarked for one sector to be retooled for another.
so while it’s super easy to blame the panic hoarding asshole insensitive consumer that’s clearing the toilet paper isles. It’s just not the case. Everyone is doing the best they can and trying to adjust as quick as they can.
Taking pictures and posting on social media really is not doing anything but creating panic and anxiety in peoples lives.
So that’s the theory on the great toilet paper shortage of 2020. Stay safe and if you could, leave a roll on the shelf for the next guy or gal. ￼