By: WAXIE Editorial Staff | May 8, 2020
Part three-of-three series analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on the Jan/San industry.
• Part One: Supply Chain Survey and COVID-19 Disruptions
• Part Two: The Effect of COVID-19 on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Supplies
• Part Three: The Ongoing Demand for Hand Sanitizers, Disinfectants and Toilet Paper – Oh My
In light of recent events, most of us are aware of how difficult it is to find face masks and gloves. However it's more than just personal protective equipment (PPE) that's being greatly affected by supply chain disruptions.
Products that are used on a daily basis to keep buildings clean and running, such as hand sanitizers, disinfectants, and yes, toilet paper have been hard to find as well. The issue that we are all facing is that all of these items are essential and will be needed as more businesses, stores and other facilities reopen.
Our final article in this series gives an in-depth look at how the supply chains in these specific product categories are being impacted.
Hand Sanitizers and Disinfectants
Availability of hand sanitizers and disinfectants has also been dramatically impacted by this surge in demand. According to Adobe Analytics (as attributed in a recent article in Bloomberg Business Week),1 demand for PURELL® hand sanitizer from GOJO Industries spiked 1400% from December to January, and has not shown any signs of letting up since.
The demand for these categories of types of products has spiked so much that manufacturers are saying that current stockpiling is “more frenzied than that which occurs before a natural disaster.” 1 According to Rick McLeod, Vice President of Product Supply for Procter & Gamble Co.’s Family Unit, “What’s different here is that it’s not as concentrated as you would see in a hurricane response – it’s obviously more widespread.” 1
As a matter of fact, the surge in demand has been so extreme during this time period, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has even taken the extraordinary step of issuing guidance for the temporary manufacture of certain alcohol-based hand sanitizer products by manufacturers who don’t typically make this product in an effort to help boost supply to protect public health.
“We are aware of significant supply disruptions for alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Many manufacturers make hand sanitizers, and several have indicated that they are working to increase supply,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. “In the meantime, these guidances provide flexibility to help meet demand during this outbreak. We will continue to work with manufacturers, compounders, state boards of pharmacy, and the public to increase the supply of alcohol-based hand sanitizer available to Americans.”2
Using this guidance from the FDA, and with a waiver from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau which allows distilled spirit makers to produce hand sanitizer, several companies from the alcoholic beverage industry3 have started to pitch in and produce hand sanitizers from denatured raw alcohol, glycerin, and hydrogen peroxide. But the alcohol industry is seeing shortages in raw materials they will need as well.
The demand for hard surface disinfectants – both chemicals and wipes – has also led to raw material shortages. Manufacturers report seeing supply interruptions for items such as the polypropylene material used to make wipes – ironically, it has been reported that some of this raw material is being diverted from the production of wipes to the production of face masks.
In addition, some of the ingredients needed to make quaternary ammonium-based disinfectants stopped arriving from China in March,3 and as a result, manufacturers of quat-based disinfectants report that there will potentially be a shortage of finished products through the months of May and June at a minimum. As if these shortages in quat weren’t enough, bottles and packaging are also concerns, and even if a manufacturer can find itself with enough chemical ingredients to make a batch of disinfectant, it is possible to not have enough bottles and packaging to make a finished product which can be ready for shipment to consumers.
As this analysis is being written, availability of alcohol-based hand sanitizer and quat-based disinfectant products (both chemicals and wipes) are expected to continue to be difficult for the next several months through at least June. Other options to consider during this time include hydrogen peroxide-based disinfectant products and bleach-based disinfectant products, although each of these products is also subject to allocation.
Many articles have been written about the psychology behind the huge surge in demand for toilet paper in response to the coronavirus pandemic.4 Needless to say, there has been an enormous uptick in the amount of toilet paper being purchased over the course of the last several months, and the companies who manufacture this product are still playing catch up so that they can refill the supply chain.
According to NCSolutions,5 a data and consulting firm quoted in an article in the New York Post, online and in-store sales of toilet paper rose 51% between February 24 and March 10, as consumers began to grow concerned over the rising number of COVID-19 cases. And when several states announced lockdowns on March 11 and 12, sales skyrocketed 845%.5 Needless to say, this surge has led to shortages.
Although not a frequent occurrence, there have been toilet paper shortages before.
Some notable examples include the months-long toilet paper shortage in Hawaii in July 1971,6 when a strike by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down every dock on the West Coast, which in turn led to the ceasing of shipments of a variety of goods including toilet paper. The shortages lasted for months, and left such a lasting impression on the Islands that there was a run on toilet paper in stores across the state when there were concerns that there would be another strike in 1999, and again in 2002 during a dock worker lockout.6
And late night king Johnny Carson caused a toilet paper scare on December 19, 19737 after delivering his monologue on the “Tonight Show” when he said, “There is an acute shortage of toilet paper in the good old United States. We gotta quit writing on it!” It turns out his writers had been misinformed about a shortage, but the damage was done – the resulting excessive demand at retail outlets caused by the monologue led to an actual shortage, and the need to implement an allocation system for the national distribution of toilet paper.7
And while there are some differences between the most recent shortages of toilet paper caused by COVID-19 and shortages caused by other reasons in the past, the similarities are that once consumers begin to feel uneasy about availability of product and the panic buying begins, it is difficult for the toilet paper supply chain to keep up with demand right away.
In “normal” times, toilet paper flows from paper mills to retail stores and wholesale distributors through a tight and efficient supply chain, and retailers typically receive frequent shipments to restock their inventory to satisfy a relatively predictable demand. The amount of toilet paper the average American uses has remained constant for many years (around 141 rolls per year, according to AlixPartners, a consulting firm quoted in an article in the New York Post), and even small changes in buying habits can throw everything into disarray, let along big changes such as those which have been associated with COVID-19.5
Why don’t the toilet paper companies just make more?
The reality is making toilet paper is a lower-margin business proposition, and in order to make a profit, the big three U.S. toilet paper companies – Georgia-Pacific, Proctor & Gamble, and Kimberly-Clark – were already running their toilet paper plants 24 hours a day before this new coronavirus pandemic hit.5 In an effort to increase total output during this surge in demand, these manufacturers are making fewer varieties of toilet paper to avoid the down-time which is associated with changing machines to produce a different product SKU.
As this analysis is being written, availability of toilet paper is expected to increase in the coming weeks and months. The good news is that consumer demand is beginning to level off, and more toilet paper is being made and is on its way to grocery stores and wholesale distribution warehouses every day.
COVID-19 has had an enormous and outsized impact on every facet of our daily lives, and it appears that this virus will continue to have a negative impact on the global supply chain for the immediate near-term future.
While it is anticipated that toilet paper will continue to be more available in the coming weeks, products like face masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, and disinfectants will continue to be in high demand with a comparatively limited supply.
Through it all, count on WAXIE to continue to work together with our manufacturer partners to try to minimize the impact these disruptions will have on the supply chain. And thank you for trusting WAXIE to be your partner to help you keep your facilities cleaner, healthier, greener, and safer.
- Bloomberg BusinessWeek website article, Disinfectant Manufacturers Scramble To Meet Explosive Demand, March 13, 2020
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) website new release, Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Provides Guidance On Production Of Alcohol-Based
Hand Sanitizer To Help Boost Supply, Protect Public Health, March 20, 2020
- Bloomberg Law website article, Disinfectant Shortage To Last Weeks Without Raw Materials, March 27, 2020
- CNN website article, The Psychology Behind Why Toilet Paper, Of All Things, Is The Latest Coronavirus Panic Buy, March 9, 2020
- New York Post website article, How A Global Pandemic Led To A Toilet Paper Shortage – And When It Gets Better, April 9, 2020
- Washington Post website article, The Toilet Paper Crisis Hawaii Has Never Forgotten, March 29, 2020
- CBS New website article, Remembering The Great Toilet Paper Shortage Of 1973, April 5, 2020