Why many stores are still short on toilet paper

Published: Apr. 20, 2020 at 2:30 PM EDT
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When the coronavirus turned into a pandemic, there was panic buying for food and other items at stores. Many products have returned, but shelves usually filled with paper products remain empty and many stores and some locations continue to limit how much you can purchase.

"When people see this kind of scarcity, it's like, 'I don't want to run out. Let me buy some extra, just in case,'" said Willy Shih, a professor at the Harvard Business School.

Shih says hoarding is a major reason toilet paper is scarce. Sales doubled in mid-March, according to the market research firm IRI.

"The problem is that this gets kind of out of control," Shih explained, "and the manufacturers, and particularly the truckers and logistics companies, you know, have to keep up with this."

Americans are not only buying out of panic, they actually need more. People are no longer going to the restroom at school or work. While we're home 24/7, toilet paper maker Georgia Pacific estimates we're using 40% more. You can find calculators online that tell you just how much TP you'll need. A calculator on estimates a four-person household will go through 20 rolls in about 16 days.

With retailers running low, consumers are now turning to industrial suppliers.

"With the onset of the crisis, most of our customers now are residential consumers," said Rich Hebert, the CEO of, which sells those giant rolls to businesses.

While the company does sell smaller sizes of toilet paper, much of it sold out. What's left ships by the carton.

"A carton has 96 rolls," Hebert said. "As long as they're willing to buy in bulk and have a place to store it, we can satisfy their needs."

Toilet paper makers have increased production, but it could be several weeks before stores can add more stock.

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