Will Grocery Stores See Toilet Paper Shortages Again In Fall 2021?

In late March of 2020, shoppers at grocery stores across the nation began to notice one very important household essential was disappearing from the shelves — toilet paper (via NC State University). Faced with the looming uncertainty and fear that accompanied the arrival of COVID-19, people began to panic-shop. With lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders being issued in towns and cities across the U.S. as the virus spread, few people knew how long they could expect to be staying indoors. Understandably, they wanted to stock up on essential items, like toilet paper, in the event that they could not leave their homes for a long period of time.

However, as the fear and panic grew, many people began overbuying products, resulting in artificial shortages on products like toilet paper, making them nearly impossible to find in many stores. While some blamed supply chain disruption for the lack of toilet paper, the shortages were almost exclusively driven by scared customers clearing out the shelves once the items arrived in store. Ronalds Gonzalez, an assistant professor of conversion economics and sustainability, said at the time that consumers were depleting inventories of an industry that was already very lean. "It will take a couple of weeks for people to understand they have enough, and the inventories will increase on the shelves," he speculated. 

Some grocery stores are selling out of toilet paper again

Thankfully, that period of panic-buying at the beginning of the pandemic came to an end, and supplies of toilet paper and other items eventually stabilized. But with increased fears over the new Delta variant surging in many cities and states across the country, many people are now wondering — can we expect toilet paper shortages to return again in the fall? According to Business Insider, some evidence suggests that customers are beginning to panic-buy toilet paper again, as COVID-19 infection rates are rising and the threat of the potential for more lockdowns looms overhead. 

Costco customers have begun reporting their local warehouses are already sold out of toilet paper, and some Costco locations have even brought back limits on the amount of toilet paper customers can buy at one time. This time around, the effects could be even worse, as many retailers nationwide are now also grappling with the effects of ongoing labor and supply shortages. But in anticipation of another bout of panic-buying, some forward-thinking grocery chains have already increased their inventory to prepare for the overwhelming demand. As was the case in March of 2020, however, these shortages will likely only become a significant problem if the public artificially drives up the demand by stockpiling essentials like toilet paper.