America is living with the reality of the coronavirus pandemic. And part of that reality means empty store shelves due to a shortage of some goods.

Customers’ frustration has escalated into physical confrontations and actual larceny — over rolls of toilet paper. Recently, Florida sheriff’s deputies arrested a man for allegedly stealing 66 toilet paper rolls from a Marriott hotel. Beverly Hills cops found 192 rolls of toilet paper in a stolen SUV. Customers are clearly fed up with seeing empty store shelves.

What’s behind the ongoing shortage of basic commodities like toilet paper?

Why are we still seeing a short supply weeks after the onset of the pandemic and the nationwide lockdown? When will the shortage end?

The bare shelves we saw when the pandemic started were likely due to the panic that swept through the country. Fear-mongering articles fanned hysteria on some news sites that had very little basis in actual, proven facts.

This, in turn, led to frantic customers swarming stores and buying out paper towels, hand soap, disinfectant, and toilet paper. Suppliers weren’t prepared to meet the demand, and goods were limited or unavailable until they could replenish. In fact, according to IRI, a market research firm, demand for toilet paper swelled to such great heights in March, that sales peaked at $1.45 billion for the four-week period ending March 29. That’s a 112% increase from a year earlier.

“I can’t give you an exact number, but I will tell you we’re making more than ever,” says Arist Mastorides, president of family care for Kimberly-Clark North America, maker of Cottonelle toilet paper and other dry goods.

Why haven’t they caught up with the demand by now?

Eric Abercrombie, the spokesman for Georgia-Pacific, the company that makes Quilted Northern toilet paper, explains that the shortage is due to a shift in the demand with the nationwide lockdown. It’s not that Americans are using more toilet paper at home than they do at work; it’s that they use a different kind. Bath tissue for the commercial market consists of one-ply recycled fiber, while consumers prefer a softer product with two-ply fiber. Suppliers need to adapt to this shift for meeting the changing demands.

Some other products, like paper towels and hand soap, are still in short supply as manufacturers struggle to restock the shelves emptied a few months ago. There have also been some interruptions in the supply chain as workers called in sick after contracting the virus or chose not to come to work to keep themselves safe from becoming infected.

But there is hope on the horizon for the frustrated consumer. Manufacturers assure the public that they are hard at work to meet the changing demands and replenish the depleted stock in stores around the country. Factories are running 24/7 and temporary workers are being called upon to cover for employees who stay home. In just a few weeks, the manufacturers say, customers should be seeing fully stocked shelves once again.

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