Why does toilet paper take so long to get to grocery stores?

Since the coronavirus ramped up and became a pandemic one essential hygiene product is flying off the shelves in grocery stores all over the world: toilet paper.  But why does it take so long to restock? 

Toilet paper can be made by recycled paper’s pulp or through tree pulp that is then dyed with chemicals to give it the white appearance.  The treated pulp is then sent to paper mills where it is converted into large sheets of paper and then cut into napkins, toilet paper, and paper towels in different sizes.  

Last year, the UK used around 1.25 million tonnes of hygiene paper of which over half were in the form of toilet paper, according to a statement by The Confederation of Paper Industries and The Paper Industry Technical Association.  

An unusually full stock of toilet paper sold 2 for 1 and limited to 4 single rolls per family. source: Natalia Jaramillo

Toilet paper mills, pre-pandemic, were already running 24 hours a day seven days a week and now with COVID-19 impacting worker’s schedules and increasing demand, the industry is having a tough time catching up. 

Kimberly Clarke, producer of popular toilet paper brands such as Andrex and Cottonelle said in a statement: 

“We have plans in place to address the increased demand for our products to the extent possible, including accelerating the production of essential products and reallocating inventory to help. Our teams continue to monitor demand and we will make adjustments to our plans accordingly.” 

Kimberly Clarke’s plans to ramp up production of essential products like toilet paper means slowing production of non essential products all meanwhile implementing worker safety protocols that may slow down production.  

“Some of the additional measures include regular cleaning of work areas, shift rotations, distancing reminders where people queue, and temperature scans at entry points. We’re also encouraging our employees to stay at home if they feel unwell,” read a Kimberly Clarke statement for the company’s COVID-19 response. 

In order to get toilet paper into grocery store shelves,  trucks have to be packed at paper mills driven to grocery stores and then unpacked and restocked onto the shelves. 

“I asked when the next shipment of toilet paper was coming and the cashier said to come early morning on Saturday,” said Viviana Riveros, a grocery store customer. 

When she arrived at 9 am, one hour after opening, the store was sold out of its supply of toilet paper.  

Grocery store shelves where there should be toilet paper are left empty due to COVID-1. Source: Natalia Jaramillo

Another popular toilet paper maker Essity, who makes Cushelle, already increased net sales in 2019 by 10.6% and is now further increasing due to the pandemic response to panic buy. 

“As a leading global hygiene and health company, we are currently also doing our utmost to continue to manufacture and deliver essential products such as hand paper towels, soap and sanitizers, toilet paper, handkerchiefs and diapers to consumers and customers around the world,” said Magnus Groth, CEO and President of Essity. 

The shortage of toilet paper comes after the UK government issues statements advising people not to panic buy. 

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