Friday, April 10, 2020

The Toilet Paper Conundrum

Recently, a television news segment brought the recent continuous toilet paper shortage (here on the Delmarva it still goes on) into complete focus. And it makes sense! Thanks to the reporter who investigated this issue!

Think back to the beginning (January/February), when people were first being told to stay home. People didn't know how long the issue would last, what the rules might be, and they reacted to uncertainty. Yes, it initially may have been a case of hoarding - of the soft, fluffy stuff we all need every day in our homes. And as the situation in the world became more dire, schools and colleges, malls, stores all were being closed, forcing folks of all ages back into their homes full-time. 

Hence, consumption hours for the soft fluffy 2-ply toilet paper at home rose dramatically - from being used for 6 or 7 hours of the day to 24/7. That's additional demand, which keeps the shelves at your local market cleaned out. Not necessarily hoarding - when 6 people are home 24/7/31 days per month instead of only 1 person all day all month, something has to give.

Remember that other market for toilet paper: commercial establishments like dorms, malls, stores, schools, factories, etc. You know, that one-ply, stiff, scratchy stuff we're forced to use at work or school. Guess what? There's very little demand for that right now. It's sometimes made by different companies than the consumer product, has a different chain of distribution, is bulky, worth comparatively very little, and takes up lots of expensive warehouse space to store, for currently nonexistent demand. As those stocks are slowly whittled down, it's likely that they will not be replenished and warehoused until the light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel gets much brighter than it is currently. 

So to me, it sounds as though the home toilet paper manufacturers never will catch up on home-use demand, though it's not necessarily due to hoarding. Adding production capacity is costly, long-term and futile, given the coronavirus cycle. And meanwhile, once commercial establishments: dorms, malls, stores, schools, factories, etc. someday (hopefully soon) start to go back to normal usage patterns, during the period of market readjustment there could conceivably be overstocks at grocery stores and shortages at the commercial bathrooms. Hence 'out of order' signs at commercial establishments.

To be a little bit punny; perhaps it all Depends! (I know, bad joke, sorry.) Or - carry your own when you can.


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