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Is there still a toilet paper shortage due to coronavirus? Experts weigh in

The Great Toilet Paper Scare of 2020 is mostly winding down, manufacturers say.
The toilet paper supply chain has mostly returned to normal, according to experts.
The toilet paper supply chain has mostly returned to normal, according to experts.Zolga_F / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. in March, the apocalyptic feel of the world led seemingly thousands of people to stockpile toilet paper, prompting widespread shortages.

You likely saw the reports: Walmart and other retailers were stripped bare in their paper product aisles, and social media users wondered aloud why TP, of all things, topped the list of important necessities during this time. After all, grocery stores, for the most part, stayed open.

Is toilet paper more available now?

While products like disinfectant wipes are still facing shortages, toilet paper is mostly in stock, according to experts and major manufacturers. (The reason for the difference comes down, in part, to the availability of raw materials, CNBC reported.)

Vivek Joshi, senior vice president of Georgia-Pacific's tissue business, which makes Angel Soft and Quilted Northern, told TODAY that within the past four to six weeks, there's been more of their products on shelves. In March, the demand was double what it usually is, he said. Now, the industry is seeing a roughly 10-15% increase.

"The supply chain is catching up, and product is more readily available ... and we can see that," he said. "Our consumers are telling us that."

The makers of Charmin, Proctor & Gamble, have a similar story. Rick McLeod, the company's family care senior vice president, said that demand overall is "not nearly as intense" as it was in March and February, but this changes "day to day."

"Stock levels are improving for sure, but they’re not where we want them to be yet," he added. "By large, we’re seeing increased purchases."

Kimberly-Clark's president of family care for North America, Arist Mastorides, who heads up the division that produces Cottonelle and Scott, said in an email statement to TODAY that the company "is doing its best to help ensure a steady supply of product to stores." He added that strategies include "accelerating production and reallocating inventory to help meet these needs."

How has the demand for toilet paper changed?

Simply put, we're staying home more in an effort to slow spread of COVID-19, according to Pete Guarraia, who leads consulting firm Bain & Company's global supply chain practice. Manufacturers are "more than meeting consumer demand," he said, in part by redistributing their resources.

For example, the need for toilet paper products used in facilities like sports arenas and offices is much lower these days. So, many manufacturers have turned their focus to in-home items. What's more, they're making fewer types of toilet paper — think about the many options you used to have for ply, quilting and softness when you go to the store — to maximize their facilities' capabilities.

But toilet paper in some areas might still be in somewhat shorter supply. Guerraia and Tonia Elrod, a spokesperson for Proctor & Gamble, both said there's higher demand in states and cities with growing rates of coronavirus infections.

Now, "it's very variable in the United States," Elrod explained. "It was not variable in March and April."

Will there be another toilet paper shortage?

Whether we'll see another toilet paper scare is unclear, but, according to experts, the chances are low.

"I don’t anticipate you’ll see much challenge to the supply change, if any," Guerraia said. "You’ve got much more stable demand patterns now."

Still, McLeod is hesitant to make any predictions. "It's really hard to say where the pandemic's going to take the demand over time," he added.

Meanwhile, the supply chain for disinfectant wipes and paper towels is still strained because consumers are using them at a much higher rate than before. The CEO of Clorox recently said the company wouldn't be able to meet full demand until 2021.

The use of toilet paper, on the other hand, has largely stayed the same for obvious biological reasons. The main change has been where we use it — but we're not actually using that much more of it.

Thinking about stockpiling toilet paper again? The average household of two people needs about nine double rolls or five mega rolls for two weeks of staying home 24/7, according to Georgia-Pacific's research, so keep this in mind before shopping.