Where did all the toilet rolls go?

Shortages in supermarkets are not the fault of hoarding

Commercial and domestic supply lines

Shortages: They are down to people hoarding, aren’t they?

The answer is yes and no. Yes because people are hoarding, but no because hoarding is not the cause of the shortages, shortages are the cause of shortages. People are seeing poorly stocked shelves and buying the things that are in short supply, making the shortages worse. But hoarding is not the case of the initial shortage.

Empty shelves

The picture above is typical of the problem. some shelves are empty while others are full, and the full ones have food on them. There is not a food shortage, though individual shortages can make menu planning interesting.

Toilet rolls

The shortage of toilet rolls is a phenomenon in countries as far apart as UK, USA and Australia is a case in point because in none of those countries is there a shortage of toilet paper. But there is a shortage of one kind of toilet paper and a glut of another.

In logistics there are two different supply chains. There is a supply to the domestic market and a separate supply chain to the commercial market. Pubs. cafes and restaurants are closed, so are many staff canteens with some businesses closed and in other businesses people are working from home. People are not eating out, some people are not going to work, so there not only are people eating out a lot less and eating more at home, but they are using the toilet more at home as well. Hence the extra pressure on the domestic supply.

Then there’s the type of paper. Small rolls of three-ply soft quilted paper on small rolls for the domestic supply and two-ply thinner paper in a mixture of small and large rolls for the commercial supply. The commercial supply rolls have a higher percentage of recycled fibre too. They are as good for the purpose they are designed for and better for the environment than the so-called quality luxury brands, many of which are 100% virgin fibre.

But it is not a matter of changing over the paper mills to making the domestic size rolls. they are not from the same paper mills. Procter and Gamble who make Charmin do not make toilet paper for the commercial market, and as toilet tissue is a constant demand and low-profit product the mills run at full capacity all year round.

Toilet rolls are in the wrong factories, on the wrong wagons and in the wrong warehouses to get to the supermarkets. The warehouses in the domestic supply chain are hit like everywhere else by staff in self-isolation or off sick. Social distancing in warehouses means that order picking is slower too. Even things in the warehouses are coming out slower.

It is not just toilet paper. Beer supplied in bottles is up whilst demand for draught beer in barrels and for keg beer is down. At least the breweries have been able to switch production to bottles and cans. Catering size tins of peas are in storage tins of peas in supermarkets is intermittent supply. And so it goes on.

So please stop blaming the greed or selfishness of the shop’s customers. The problem is in logistics, but there is no blame here either. We have supply chains working as fast as they can trying to get food and loo rolls to us, but our supply chains are not set up to cope with a global pandemic of this size. Everyone is doing what they can. Supply is being diverted where it can be, some of the commercial supply is getting into supermarkets. All through the supply chain, people are putting themselves at risk of COVID_19 for minimal wages. High-risk low-money is not an ethical way to run things.

The media likes to sensationalise things, this too is driving shortages. Headlines such as “Evil hoarders causing shortages,” may sell newspapers, but it does not reflect the truth.

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