Haters love to blame "hoarders" and "panic buyers" for the lack of toilet paper on store shelves and to decry the "irrationality" of people who rushed stores to stock up amid the coronavirus pandemic. But at Medium, Will Oremus explains the truth lies elsewhere. Yes, there were some who panic-bought, especially when pictures of empty shelves hit social media. But the vast majority of people are not hoarding TP. Here's the simple reality: With at least three-quarters of the United States under stay-at-home orders, people will legitimately need more toilet paper (one estimate pegs it at 40% more) because they're not using bathrooms at work, school, and restaurants these days.
Commercial and consumer toilet paper aren't the same thing: The former comes on supersize rolls, is thin, and is shipped in bulk. And they often aren't made in the same mills. Now there's "a huge leap in demand for a product"—that would be consumer toilet paper—"whose supply chain is predicated on the assumption that demand is essentially constant." If you're thinking commercial makers should just switch gears, Oremus explains the problem: "Shifting to retail channels would require new relationships and contracts between suppliers, distributors, and stores; different formats for packaging and shipping; new trucking routes—all for a bulky product with lean profit margins." Investing in that shift likely wouldn't be worth it, because those manufacturers would have to flip back when this is all over. (Read the full piece for more on how there's a similar issue with bananas.)