Covid US: Consumers panic buying toilet paper after Delta variant-led rise in shortage cases

The Delta variant-fueled COVID spike is causing Americans to build 2020’s favorite panic buy; toilet paper.

Stores currently have 14 percent less TP than usual, raising fears that the U.S. could return to the early days of the pandemic, where shortages were frequent and stores often had only 40 percent of their regular inventory available.

Procter & Gamble runs its toilet paper mills 24/7 and increases shipping to keep up with rising demand, according to The Wall Street Journal. They are also reportedly rationing by restricting retailers’ purchases.

Earlier this month, a number of Costco customers took to Twitter to complain about a lack of toilet paper — along with bottled water and other common doomsday store favorites — that were out of stock at their local stores.

‘There wasn’t’ [sic] every bottle of water or toilet paper at Costco today…sign of the time to come,” a California user tweeted on Aug. 16.

Meanwhile, sales of paper products in the three weeks ended August 22 were eight percent higher than last year.

The Delta variant-fueled COVID spike is causing Americans to build 2020's favorite panic buy;  toilet paper.  Pictured is a woman who was stocking up on toilet paper last March

The Delta variant-fueled COVID spike is causing Americans to build 2020’s favorite panic buy; toilet paper. Pictured is a woman who was stocking up on toilet paper last March

Retailers are in better shape than last year, but with supply chain and material shortages, they are struggling to get the full range of sizes and brands of toilet paper and paper towels that shoppers were used to before the pandemic.  Here a woman picks up a roll of toilet paper at a store in Burbank last November amid shortages caused by a spate of coronavirus infections

Retailers are in better shape than last year, but with supply chain and material shortages, they are struggling to get the full range of sizes and brands of toilet paper and paper towels that shoppers were used to before the pandemic.  Here a woman picks up a roll of toilet paper at a store in Burbank last November amid shortages caused by a spate of coronavirus infections

Retailers are in better shape than last year, but with supply chain and material shortages, they are struggling to get the full range of sizes and brands of toilet paper and paper towels that shoppers were used to before the pandemic. Here a woman picks up a roll of toilet paper at a store in Burbank last November amid shortages caused by a spate of coronavirus infections

Paper product sales were 8 percent higher than last year in the three weeks ended August 22.  Pictured are empty shelves in a California Target last March

Paper product sales were 8 percent higher than last year in the three weeks ended August 22.  Pictured are empty shelves in a California Target last March

Paper product sales were 8 percent higher than last year in the three weeks ended August 22. Pictured are empty shelves in a California Target last March

The majority of the top ten fastest-growing items on sale as of August 5, according to IRI, testify to our gradual return to “normal” life — eye and lip cosmetics, premixed cocktails and wine coolers, breath fresheners and cheesecakes are all on the list.

But the most growing products — cough syrup and allergy and sinus products — show that the pandemic is far from out of our minds. Compared to this time last year, cold, allergy and sinus fluids are up a whopping 65.3 percent, while cough syrup is selling 52 percent more.

And, as the country discovered last March, pandemic panic and toilet paper-less aisles and flushable wipes go hand in hand.

The IRI data shows that P&G and other paper companies are working to meet rising demand, with an average inventory level of 84 percent as of July 25.

Neither P&G nor Costco responded to MailOnline’s requests for comment at the time of going to press.

Along with growing fears surrounding the Delta variant, back-to-school shopping, government incentives, rising COVID cases and a return to social activities have caused Americans to buy more — and dwindle space on container ships for commodities.

Retailers are in better shape than last year, but with supply chain and material shortages, they are struggling to get the full range of sizes and brands of toilet paper and paper towels that shoppers were used to before the pandemic.

Grocery stores across the country have had to think creatively to cope with these longstanding hurdles.  Here's a woman reaching for toilet paper on a sparsely stocked shelf in November last year

Grocery stores across the country have had to think creatively to cope with these longstanding hurdles.  Here's a woman reaching for toilet paper on a sparsely stocked shelf in November last year

Grocery stores across the country have had to think creatively to cope with these longstanding hurdles. Here’s a woman reaching for toilet paper on a sparsely stocked shelf in November last year

Arthur Ackles, the vice president of Massachusetts-based supermarket chain Roche Bros., told the Journal he was made aware of purchase limits on P&G paper products last week.

“Customers ask a lot of questions,” he told the outlet. Certain items, he said, have been out of stock for a few days recently — he fears the sight of sparsely stocked shelves could spark a new wave of panic buying.

While other retailers and grocers are buying more household items such as toilet paper and cleaning products, Roche Bros is looking for alternative suppliers and providing more items.

“I don’t think we have fully recovered from when the supply chain was hit,” he said.

On average, supermarkets ran out of 13 percent of their items last year, IRI data shows — now 11 percent of items remain out of stock. Before the pandemic, on average, only 5 to 7 percent of items were missing from the shelves at any given time.

Food City, a Southern supermarket chain, has resorted to buying paper products from smaller companies to fill gaps in their shelves. Steve Smith, the director of the Virginia-based chain, told the Journal they are filling their shelves “with everything we have.”

Toilet paper demand at Food City is up seven percent in the past four weeks compared to the same period in 2020, and August saw the store’s second-highest month of sales since the start of the pandemic.

Grocery stores across the country have had to think creatively to cope with these longstanding hurdles.

The Louisiana-based Rouses Market, for example, began to make its own take on Kraft Heinz Lunchables, which they told the Journal were hard to come by, by packing together cheese, crackers, grapes and meat.

Cleaning products are also being purchased more frequently, as COVID-affected hygiene practices persist even after vaccination rates have risen. According to an IRI study published Aug. 5, Lysol sold $328.8 million more in products than it did in 2020.

Smaller home health care companies have seen greater percentage revenue growth, according to the company, while German company Freudenberg Household Products saw a profit increase of more than 55 percent over the past two years.

P&G has seen a whopping 27.4 percent increase in sales in the past two years; Clorox increased profits by 13.4 percent during this period.

Cottonelle and Scott toilet paper maker Kimberly-Clark, however, saw their strongest quarterly sales drop in a decade this year, according to the Journal, as demand for the paper products slumped sharply at the start of the year from the pandemic.

Last year, Clorox doubled their capacity to make their sanitizing wipes, which were notoriously hard to find in the height of the pandemic, along with capacity for other cleaning products, the company said in press releases.

Like P&G, Clorox ran their factories around the clock and engaged third-party manufacturers to meet demand.

Purell maker Gojo Industries opened another factory and warehouse in the US last year to double the size of its manufacturing operations.

Toilet paper manufacturers have a harder time increasing capacity — machines that roll wood pulp into paper products require a massive four-story machine made of intricate parts that can take months or years to build and cost billions of dollars.

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