The real reason you can't find any toilet paper
March 26, 2020 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Let’s be clear. If supermarket chains are having problems with getting goods into distribution centres and out into stores, no one can honestly say their supply chains are healthy. The narrative that shortages of these products can be traced to the rightly vexing actions of a very, very small minority of shoppers is convenient because it feels emotionally intuitive. But at most, in the current crisis hoarding shoppers can only be responsible for shelves sitting empty for longer, not for them emptying in the first place. Maybe we're not all completely terrible after all.
posted by mecran01 (114 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
 
This should have been a real wake up call to anyone who shits on "socialist" countries like Venezuela and act like this kind of thing only ever happens in places like that.

Well, it took decades of tearing those societies apart at the seams to get them to fall apart. Cuba never even fell apart, they just learned to make do with what they had. 60 years of embargoes and they just learned to be better.

Ours was put under pressure for two weeks and began to fall apart thanks to "just-in-time" logistics.

Make of that what you will.
posted by deadaluspark at 10:14 AM on March 26 [43 favorites]


Around here (anecdotally), it's been the giant stores that have run out of toilet paper and such, not the smaller ones. I'm on the north side of Chicago. I walked past a small Italian specialty grocery store yesterday, the kind that does most business by selling of sandwiches from the deli. They had a window display of individually wrapped rolls of TP arranged in a pyramid, which looked like something out of 1963 Mayberry. The Mexican store I go to has had paper products too, though heavily picked over. But my social media feeds have been showing me empty pallets at Costco, Sam's Club and the mega chains.
posted by SoberHighland at 10:17 AM on March 26 [26 favorites]


Yes. Supply chain and stocking are a massive problem because stores are, indeed reducing 'waste' of personnel and excess storage capacity in order to compete with amazon. And citing Walmart's rapid redeployment to Katrina response is not an adequate analogy because a hurricane is location specific. This crisis is nation-wide for every location.

With hurricanes, we know the in-demand items from past experience. There is no past experience for this and there is no straightforward way to increase supply chain capacity in a few month's time.

Plus, we as citizens are given no actual reliable guidance on how or for how long to prepare. From governments saying "no worries; we've got a plan" to news media hyping the crisis we are fully conflicted on just what to believe. And differences exist between how typically compliant citizens are in each nation.

We cannot say lack of stock on store shelves is based mainy on lack of ramping up distribution or personal hording either.
posted by mightshould at 10:17 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


Eh, people were filling box trucks with tp when they could get it. The supply isnt infinite, it has to get made and shipped.

FWIW, my local independent grocery (it's a large place, but not like walmart or safeway) restocked within 5 days and put limits on how much people can buy. Idk why big chains havent been able to do this.
posted by ananci at 10:27 AM on March 26 [8 favorites]


People being told that they might have to self-quarantine for 14 days if they develop flulike symptoms and also being told not to buy too much or make unnecessary trips. It's absurd. Of course people are buying extra because they don't know when they might be locked inside for two weeks with no warning!
posted by BungaDunga at 10:27 AM on March 26 [83 favorites]


I've been reminding people that there is not actually an increased demand for toilet paper, just increased interest in stockpiles. Once people have stored what they think is a reasonable amount for lockdown prep (which is going to range from "an extra 12-pack" to "wall full of 24-packs"), supply will stabilize.

Ditto, to a lesser extent, for food: you can't store six months of eggs for later. OTOH, demand for food has actually gone up. People are staying at home, kids are staying home and not getting lunch at school, and families are going through more food than they're used to, often of different types. (Food needs of restaurants have dropped dramatically. But those supplies can't just be shunted to supermarkets; they're on a different supply chain.)

Most of the empty shelves are logistics problems showing the flaws in the distribution network, not shortages as such. There's a temp shortage of "people want more in their homes rather than at the store," but usage levels haven't changed.

This is not true for hand sanitizer, face masks, some kinds of soap, and gloves. There's actually substantially increased demand for those, and manufacturers have to gear up before we can have "enough." Manufacturers also have to decide if the gearing up is long-term/permanent or crisis-based; it changes how they adjust their processes. And of course, they have no data to work from: nobody knows how much sanitizer we'll be using in December, nor how common wearing nitrile gloves in public will be next year.

But for the items that aren't seeing increased use, just a change in storage habits, the article is spot-on:
There may not have been the luxury of a four-month build-up, but we’ve had six weeks at least, as well as the dubious advantage of seeing the effect of the virus on other countries first. It is only right that questions should be asked of why supply chains weren’t expanded sooner, and why it appears that profit has been put before preparation.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:29 AM on March 26 [36 favorites]


I've been reminding people that there is not actually an increased demand for toilet paper, just increased interest in stockpiles.

Yeah, you can't use twice as much toilet paper later, nor do you have the throw it out because it went "bad".

If this article author waited another week or two, they wouldn't even have an article to write.
posted by sideshow at 10:31 AM on March 26 [8 favorites]


FWIW, my local independent grocery (it's a large place, but not like walmart or safeway) restocked within 5 days and put limits on how much people can buy. Idk why big chains havent been able to do this.

The lady I talked to at Target said when there are limits, the same people just keep coming back the next day. WTF are they doing with it all? The mind boggles.

My ex is buying the individually wrapped rolls from the little bodega down the street from him. Suddenly reminded me of how my friend would get loosies from the bodega in New York near us.
posted by emjaybee at 10:32 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


This article is BS, nowhere less than the pull-quote: "[i]f supermarket chains are having problems with getting goods into distribution centres and out into stores, no one can honestly say their supply chains are healthy."

The definition of a "healthy" supply chain is not one with so vast an overcapacity that it can instantaneously absorb a completely novel surge in demand. That's a supply chain that will, in a competitive low margin industry, doom you to insolvency.

As it happens, grocer supply chains have done admirably, particularly given tons of work from home among their vendors and consultants, if not their staff. As an example, we passed (in the NYC suburbs) peak stock-the-pantry panic a week or so back and with some quantity limits everything was back on track within a few days.
posted by MattD at 10:33 AM on March 26 [53 favorites]


Demand for toilet paper hasn't increased. Demand for toilet paper AT HOME has increased.

I'm a work pooper. Not anymore!
posted by m@f at 10:34 AM on March 26 [68 favorites]


Grocery store logistics are based on established consumer patterns, patterns which have been completely upended by the pandemic and various shelter in place orders and, most critically, the rapid migration of food consumption from restaurants and schools to the home. People, generally, don't go hungry in normal times, because the various fulfillment modes for food are designed to meet society's needs and behaviors. Restaurant suppliers like Cisco et al supply restaurants and schools at scale, and grocery stores supply individual customers. Shifting all of that restaurant volume to grocery stores creates enormous logistical challenges, not because the supply chain is unhealthy, but because it was not designed for the current scenario. That is, of course, getting worked out as rapidly as possible.

It is also a fact that moving more goods requires more people, and people are rightly reticent to go out of their houses at all, and existing workers are likely to become infected and force a good portion of their coworkers into quarantine. So it isn't like scaling up the workforce at this moment in time is a non-trivial effort.

Could the grocers have been more proactive about restructuring their logistics to account for these changes in advance? Sure! Sure they could have, just as NYC could have closed schools earlier and SXSW could have cancelled with more advance notice or maybe gotten pandemic insurance. Everything is obvious with hindsight.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:37 AM on March 26 [11 favorites]


I understand the point that the author is trying to make, but it feels pretty hollow to say that the supermarkets are failing us because they can't adapt in only a couple of months to a historically unprecedented surge in demand. Quite literally some of them are filling and then emptying their Distribution Centers over and over again for critical products.

My company makes a number of staple grocery items and each of our factories - every single one of them - set records in the last month for output even as we rewrote some working procedures to maximize social distancing. So undoubtedly panic buying (or at the very least heavy stockpiling) is having a primary effect. And it's wholly understandable that even the best-prepared stores would struggle to prioritize and move stock in that environment.
posted by AgentRocket at 10:39 AM on March 26 [29 favorites]


My store has put up a large sign on the exit explaining that they will not be accepting returns on items purchased during this period (with the obvious exception of damaged or defective items).

I think that can help stop the hoarding to a point. But it also probably means the supply chain is going to experience some whiplash a few months from now when we're all back in public and nobody needs toilet paper any more.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:41 AM on March 26 [4 favorites]


People are being told they need to stay inside and minimize exposure for at least 14 days, and then if they become symptomatic at any time during that period they need to fully self-isolate for as long as they are symptomatic, plus another seven days. Once you're in isolation, you're asked not to go to the market or the pharmacy. If you're among healthy family members, or housemates, you're supposed to stay in one room. What if all the parents in a family get sick at once?

So it's not really "panic buying." It's stockpiling, but not out of proportion to the idea that the best thing to protect yourself and others right now is to avoid as many return trips to the market as possible, your household might get sick towards the end of the initial period, at which point you're in for another few weeks of total isolation.

Also, the idea that Covid can't cause gastrointestinal distress has been debunked. So there's that too.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:44 AM on March 26 [29 favorites]


It's not individual for-profit companies' job to solve collective action problems. The feds maintain minimum reserve requirements for banks, and they already maintain stockpiles for things like fuel and apparently ventilators, so they could do the same for minimum supplies of basic needs to avoid runs / panic buying. Either force companies of a certain size to keep more stock on hand than is mathematically necessary under normal conditions, or, where applicable, stockpile them and provide an infrastructure for quickly distributing them.

Of course this requires federal resources, and we only spend them during panicked times like these. But it's not like the solution is complicated. Government needs to directly provide or regulate the private sector to provide the necessary margins.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:45 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


But it also probably means the supply chain is going to experience some whiplash a few months from now when we're all back in public and nobody needs toilet paper any more.

And considering the absolutely explosive interest in bidets, America might be planning on leaving TP behind after this. We all knew we would have running water, we didn't all know if we would have something to wipe our asses with.

I was more worried about facial tissue than toilet paper, as I have allergies year round and feel like I'm choking if I can't blow my nose a few times a day. I invested in a big pack of easily washable handkerchiefs.

If lots of people are switching to bidets and handkerchiefs, you could see a decline for a demand in paper products in general.
posted by deadaluspark at 10:45 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


the absolutely explosive interest in bidets

um
posted by the_blizz at 10:50 AM on March 26 [63 favorites]


Demand for toilet paper hasn't increased. Demand for toilet paper AT HOME has increased.

Exactly! In a typical workweek, I spend more time awake and out of the house than I do awake at home. Same with my husband. So of course I'm going to need more TP at home. I'm also using more coffee and creamer at home, more lunch and dinner foods at home, more electricity at home. For weeks now we've been told that if we get ill, we have to quarantine for the illness plus 7-14 days after. Why would I not get extra supplies in?

There are some assholes out there stocking for resale, but it's not a stretch to believe the "panic" shoppers are the ones actually listening to advice. It can be both.
posted by kimberussell at 10:56 AM on March 26 [13 favorites]


We have a bidet on the way! I've been wanting one for a while, and grumpybearbride made the wise decision to order one before they all sold out. There's a resource nobody thought to stockpile! See also: chest freezers.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:56 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


I switched to handkerchiefs and bandanas many years ago! The only time I use facial tissue now is if I have a cold and I need to use it a LOT and OFTEN. Plus, I love being able to wipe perspiration from my face and scalp, and tissue doesn't work for that. Just gotta be sure to use 100% cotton bandanas. They're cheap, they last forever and they require no special care with washing and drying.
posted by SoberHighland at 10:57 AM on March 26 [5 favorites]


One big reason toilet paper was being snapped off the shelves so early on is that it was widely reported being snapped off the shelves early on, which leads to worry about not being able to get any for yourself, so more people rush out and buy some and increase the "panic". That's kinda standard for how these things work.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:00 AM on March 26 [34 favorites]


Also, the increase in Work From Home will reduce demand for paper as more offices go even more paperless than they did in the late 90's/early 2000's. Focus on electronic records will become more likely than focus on physical records (also protip, a hard drive is a physical thing, so it's still a physical record.).

I mean, demand for paper has been drying up for a while, as it is.
posted by deadaluspark at 11:01 AM on March 26


As you optimize any system, you simultaneously make it more brittle, vulnerable to breaking. And the constant push for more more more growth and profit inevitably results in over-optimization, for assumptions that hold an ever-decreasing chance of always being true. This was bound to happen eventually, and it will happen again, perhaps very soon as it costs money to always be prepared for large-scale shortages.
posted by JHarris at 11:01 AM on March 26 [26 favorites]


I've been seeing a lot of people who want to be angry at hoarders, and see hoarding as the reason that there was no dry pasta, let along tubs of disinfectant wipes on the shelves at stores. They absolutely feel that someone else got there first and it's not fair and those people are bad. I noticed that at my usual grocery store they keep disinfectant wipes on a top shelf and there is room for maybe twenty tubs up there and no more. So I don't expect to see any for awhile, even if they do keep getting them in and restocking them because it won't take more than twenty minutes for them to be sold out, if people are buying just one tub of the wipes each.

It seems to me that the anxiety of not being able to get stuff is so triggering to some people who aren't managing their anger well that it seems better to back out of the conversation. I have another friend who is furious that we are not testing as widely as people in other areas and is stewing, not able to move past blaming whoever is in charge. "Why didn't they know we were going to need more test kits??? We should have had more test kits!" I don't dare tell her that the bottleneck is swabs and the chemicals needed to do the testing, and efforts to source those things are struggling. Predictions are that just when we need to really gear up on the testing to start tracking the community transmission we will be running out of the test kits entirely.

Yet we both live in a part of the world and a community that regularly has runs on supplies when a blizzard is predicted to lock things down for a few days. "Storm chips" are the potato chips you rush out to buy to snack on when you get to stay home from work because of the snow. Every time that happens our stores end up with a bunch of empty shelves. If our stores can't prevent themselves from running out during the usual predictable winter storms and people end up going home without beer or bread or bananas, why is she surprised and crying criminal negligence when our medical system did not stockpile test kits that might never have been used?

But her anger is the way she expresses anxiety. I can't tell her not to be angry. Nobody is interested in supply chain logistics and weaknesses until they get frightened. We teach kids about the invisible workers that keep our society running - at least one twenty minute unit before grade four - and then never look at it again to understand the complexity, the problems and how extremely tenuous that chain has become since we moved to a system where re-orders are based on what got scanned at the check out, with the only alterations on the order spreadsheet being new feature products some sales and marketing team has convinced the store manager to add.
posted by Jane the Brown at 11:03 AM on March 26 [18 favorites]


As a guy who shares a small freezer with two roommates, I only wish we had the money/space for a chest freezer. I basically said fuck it and went all in on dry goods because there simply wasn't room.
posted by deadaluspark at 11:04 AM on March 26 [11 favorites]


And considering the absolutely explosive interest in bidets, America might be planning on leaving TP behind after this. We all knew we would have running water, we didn't all know if we would have something to wipe our asses with.

posted by deadaluspark

I'm not so sure we're going to have running water if so many people keep flushing paper towel and disintectant wipes. There are a lot of sewer systems running into trouble right now.
posted by Jane the Brown at 11:06 AM on March 26 [14 favorites]


We found toilet paper today at Winco, but I was disappointed that the popcorn was sold out.
posted by mecran01 at 11:09 AM on March 26


Yeah, I'm rather skeptical that there was any way for supermarkets or other companies to address this in the time allowed. Modern supply chains generally work pretty well most of the time, and their "just in time" methodology maximizes not just profit but also adaptability. As the article itself says:

Famously, as Hurricane Katrina battered Louisiana, Walmart was able to mobilise its logistical systems to provide essential items to thousands of affected people on a non-commercial basis even quicker than the Home Guard.

The problem is that it's relatively easy to mobilize support for a localized disaster like a hurricane or earthquake, but this pandemic is happening in a ton of places at once (and eventually will be everywhere)!

How much of a stockpile would it take to manage hundreds of millions of people going into lockdown in a matter of a few months? Absent a stockpile, what kind of manufacturing agility would it take to be able to address that situation with weeks of notice? And we expect this for toilet paper?
posted by a device for making your enemy change his mind at 11:10 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


It seems to me that the anxiety of not being able to get stuff is so triggering to some people who aren't managing their anger well that it seems better to back out of the conversation.

This is me dealing with...

I'm not so sure we're going to have running water if so many people keep flushing paper towel and disintectant wipes. There are a lot of sewer systems running into trouble right now.

...my roommates who literally keep flushing the antibacterial wipes that say loudly all over the box that they are not flushable.

Seriously, its close to fisticuffs because I'm screaming how easy do you think it's going to fucking be to get someone to come fix our septic system during this fucking crisis and do you really think the landlord is going to pay for it when its revealed you flushed a bunch of shit that broke it.

I already gave up a year ago trying to explain that the reason other countries stopped taking our recycling is because people like them think food stained cardboard and paper towels are totally okay to recycle.

The real problem is the word "adulting." If you have to use that word to describe doing the bare minimum to take care of yourself and the systems that support your ability to do things like take a shit in the comfort of your own home, you're fucking failing. Motherfucker runs his own business and makes damn good money but is going to wreck our fucking septic system because he's such an uneducated dumb fuck.

It's hard for me to back away when my quality of life is being affected by these pieces of shit who can't stand up and do the fucking basics to take care of themselves.
posted by deadaluspark at 11:11 AM on March 26 [24 favorites]


The thing I have (anecdotally) noticed here in eastern MA is, the stores that put limits in place seem to not be in such dire shape compared to those that did not. Yes, someone could buy the limit, go home, and come back -- but most people aren't going to do it.

The two nearest stores from me (both Stop & Shops) have not set any limits, and they've been cleared out of meat, dairy, dry goods, and paper products for 2 weeks. Meanwhile, when I went to the Wegman's a bit further away that's enforcing strict limits on bulk goods (bulk meat, dry goods, butter, eggs, etc), their selection was slightly less than normal but basically they had everything you need (except paper towels, sadly).

Could some of it be that Wegman's has better supply chain management? Sure, but I think a fair bit is just that even if not 100% effective, stores taking some steps to limit hoarding has a measurable positive impact.
posted by tocts at 11:16 AM on March 26 [5 favorites]


What is going to effect supply chains is the thousands of migrant workers stuck in Mexico behind a closed border and seasons are coming up fast. My family's farms have only about a quarter the labor they need right now.

I'd say it serves them right, since half of my cousins are racist MAGA dipshits who stumped for the wall with one hand and hire "illegals" with the other (and yes, they have no conception of the hypocrisy or irony). But I suspect this issue is going to effect thousands of farms.

If somebody doesn't do something fast you will absolutely see empty shelves in the stores. And that my friends is scary.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 11:17 AM on March 26 [39 favorites]


I think the author kind of gets what's wrong but tries to shoehorn it into a bad metaphor and reasoning to make a bad political point.

Yes, supply chain industries run lean. But when it comes down to it, the lean manufacturing normally works within certain demand parameters because to run otherwise is a tad ridiculous. This is pretty much a 0.01% event affecting everywhere simultaneously. Even if they were operating 50% above demand constantly (why anyone would do this is beyond me) before the event we would still be struggling to cope because the problem isn't of production, it's distribution. Demand drops off from some places, surges in others. If you have a demand of 95 units per day, produce 100 units a day, have 400 units in the channel, and some bunch of assholes buys 300, well, that's two months of production to catch up with the surge in demand. If you're a producer, you really ramp up production that far because you'll have to ramp back down once the demand shocks are over. Especially when it's something like TP that has inelastic demand. Everyone uses it at a fairly predictable rate. There's no major structural demand increase in TP, only a drawdown of the supply chain.

Surge staffing and hastily increasing production is not the sign of the end of the world or even the capitalist world. It's not a failure of supply chain logistics. It's the system doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing. Eventually the supply chain will readjust itself to the new reality and things will settle into the new version of "normal". It's a disruptive event of a magnitude previously unimagined. If anyone thinks they could build a functional supply chain that could handle an event this big while still being able to operate, little alone be profitable, they're either a liar, a charlatan, or a fool.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 11:17 AM on March 26 [7 favorites]


Other advanced countries with similar lockdowns and similar supply chains, like Germany and Italy, don't have supermarket shortages.

Anglo-Saxon people are really attached to the idea that they're rational people. I keep seeing complicated explanations and rationalisations but the clue's in the name: it's panic buying. No logistics system can cope with a fundamentally irrational, panicked demand for loads more stuff than people actually need.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:20 AM on March 26 [9 favorites]


If somebody doesn't do something fast you will absolutely see empty shelves in the stores. And that my friends is scary.

The sad thing is that, by and large, it won't be American stores that will remain empty. We can print way more pieces of green paper and send them out into the world to take food out of the mouth of poorer economies and we can cheaply bring it to American markets because all the pricing of all the logistical services are depressed. We can pay prices no native economy can pay to have fresh fruits and nuts flown up from Latin America for emergency supplies. We can have container ships bringing up the rear guard to ensure it. What is LATAM going to do? Close their export markets? The United States has a lot of navy which Trump will be only too happy to use to remind LATAM of the importance of free trade.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 11:25 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Anglo-Saxon people are really attached to the idea that they're rational people. I keep seeing complicated explanations and rationalisations but the clue's in the name: it's panic buying. No logistics system can cope with a fundamentally irrational, panicked demand for loads more stuff than people actually need.

British Colonialism: Not even once.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 11:28 AM on March 26 [8 favorites]


The people who were told to buy enough to last 15 days are now being told that it’s going to get “really bad” and that their next grocery run is going to coincide with the increase in cases. There are legitimate news stories about people down the supply lines becoming ill and working throughout it and that the virus can survive on the most commonly used types of packaging for shipment. Online stores are also still frequently “sold out” of staple items. I can’t be the only non-panic buyer that feels sort of like a chump right now.
posted by Selena777 at 11:32 AM on March 26 [21 favorites]


Re: panic buying, what really freaks people out - legitimately - is that there is no good projection of how long this will last, and what upcoming supply chain / infrastructure / societal fabric failures will extend it and make the getting of essential goods that much harder. So when anyone attempt to calculate how many weeks of TP or rice or beans they need, the key variable of X weeks remains undefined both because we don't know when the whole shebang will end or what disruptions will reduce the overall availability of TP / rice / beans. Panic buyers don't bother me because they are actually being rational given the circumstances. Profiteers, however, deserve to be walked off a plank.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:33 AM on March 26 [27 favorites]


Other advanced countries with similar lockdowns and similar supply chains, like Germany

Granted, I’ve been going to supermarkets in the evenings, rather than mornings, but I haven’t seen a package of toilet rolls in a supermarket in weeks here in Frankfurt. Soap is also generally pretty low, and pasta is pretty popular. People are definitely hamstering here, and have been for weeks.
posted by scorbet at 11:34 AM on March 26 [10 favorites]


I see a lot of people saying that demand for toilet paper is essentially fixed. It is, BUT... previously a lot of that demand was via b2b vendors selling giant or bulk rolls to offices, public buildings, movie theaters, restaurants, etc. A huge percentage of daily restroom use has shifted into private homes. And it's not like there was a mechanism to shift smoothly from eighteen inch rolls locked into stainless steel cases to single rolls for individual homes.

Overall, the demand is stable. But there's a helluva lot less going out the doors from Cintas and Swisher and a helluva lot more demand for Charmin, Scott, etc.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:35 AM on March 26 [9 favorites]


People being told that they might have to self-quarantine for 14 days if they develop flulike symptoms and also being told not to buy too much or make unnecessary trips.

And "buying too much" on a single trip cuts down on "unnecessary trips". When I have to go to the grocery store next time it will probably be a lot less crowded and therefore safer thanks to those awful "hoarders" we were all giving the side-eye to.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 11:35 AM on March 26 [24 favorites]


it costs money to always be prepared for large-scale shortages.

For years, I have purchased my freeze-dried fruit snacks from beprepared.com, that site based in Utah which sells everything you need for the apocalypse (freeze-dried foods, shelters, solar gadgets, etc.), because it's convenient. They've just informed me that they're so sorry, orders are backed up 6-8 weeks "due to high demand." Hmmm.

Modern supply chains generally work pretty well most of the time, and their "just in time" methodology maximizes not just profit but also adaptability

I'd say the supermarkets are being incredibly fucking adaptable and innovative. They've gone from totally normal to worldwide pandemic in just two weeks, keeping most things stocked normally, and putting up polite signs which go a long way towards keeping people from rioting. I hope they get some kind of national medal when this is all over.
posted by Melismata at 11:44 AM on March 26 [17 favorites]


The mask shortage is really biting my wife's office in the butt. They're a home healthcare provider, and, in addition to their healthcare workers, many of the office staff have to go into clients' homes to do intake interviews and the like. Simply put, they cannot find any masks for love or money. So, their people are going into homes without even the slightest bit of protection. They're not looking for anything beyond bog-standard masks.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:03 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


the lean manufacturing normally works within certain demand parameters because to run otherwise is a tad ridiculous

We lived this ridiculous way for most of our modern capitalist history. The obsession with squeezing all margin out of the system has made our systems more brittle. I don't think there can be much doubt about that.
posted by praemunire at 12:05 PM on March 26 [19 favorites]


I'm not sure of his thesis. Just a little while ago I spoke to someone I know who is a freight broker and the trucks are all running, are insanely busy and demanding about twice their normal rate. The stuff is out there and moving.
posted by lordrunningclam at 12:11 PM on March 26 [4 favorites]


less going out the doors from Cintas and Swisher
Restaurants around me are becoming defacto supermarkets, selling raw food ingredients and toilet paper.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:12 PM on March 26 [4 favorites]


We found toilet paper today at Winco, but I was disappointed that the popcorn was sold out.

I hope you aren't considering both those items for an equivalent purpose - in either direction.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:15 PM on March 26 [5 favorites]


I'm a work pooper. Not anymore!

getting paid to poop at home = livin' the dream
posted by entropicamericana at 12:15 PM on March 26 [22 favorites]


What is going to effect supply chains is the thousands of migrant workers stuck in Mexico behind a closed border and seasons are coming up fast. My family's farms have only about a quarter the labor they need right now.

smaller ethical farmers will be fucked but larger ones will keep using slave prison labor as usual
posted by poffin boffin at 12:18 PM on March 26


I don't think the shift to home pooping is entirely the cause of the empty shelves. The independent supermarket we shop at has been picked clean of all paper products for the last fortnight. Unless you're there when they unload a case, you aren't getting any.
posted by scruss at 12:18 PM on March 26


also for everyone saying "oh well it's only natural that people told to quarantine for weeks at a time would buy a lot of supplies," you are missing the fact that the hoarding and locust-like swarming of supermarkets began minimum a full week before anyone mentioned quarantines or sheltering in place, if not earlier.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:20 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Because everyone knew it was coming, and if you wait until you are quarantined to stock up on food it is, like, too late. So no, that fact was not missed.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:23 PM on March 26 [38 favorites]


Other advanced countries with similar lockdowns and similar supply chains, like Germany and Italy, don't have supermarket shortages.

Completely untrue, incidentally.
posted by Dim Siawns at 12:25 PM on March 26 [11 favorites]


I see a lot of people saying that demand for toilet paper is essentially fixed. It is, BUT...

How come whenever we talk about toilet paper there's always a BUT???
posted by dchase at 12:26 PM on March 26 [15 favorites]


the supermarkets are being incredibly fucking adaptable and innovative...I hope they get some kind of national medal when this is all over.

Here in Vancouver we applaud out the windows for medical staff at 7:00.

We should next start applauding for the grocery clerks at 7:30.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:27 PM on March 26 [13 favorites]


I daydream on the reg about plans to celebrate when this is all over. 1) Payments now to vacation resorts for guests when we can travel again 2) Vouchers now to anyone who has to go in to work because they’re essential 3) Run a little scarce on that labor after the disaster, while they enjoy their vacations 4) When we’re back to normal, GIANT PARADES celebrating EVERYONE DID OT TOGETHER and we have all the kinds of dancing especially together!
posted by clew at 12:33 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


My therapist reports, in hilarity but also in (hilarious-to-me) some genuine consternation, that the psychoanalysts on his listserv have been trying to start serious analytical conversations about what all this toilet paper buying ~means~ , and every effort invariably devolves into stupid jokes within 3-4 responses. Like. What did they expect?!
posted by MiraK at 12:37 PM on March 26 [25 favorites]


It's really weird, I mentioned ages ago on another thread that my neighborhood in Copenhagen is the only one really running wild with the hoarding. They still are. I blame the school networks. But in the rest of the country, the only thing missing is hand sanitizer.
Now that I've moved to the country, I go to the store, get my hands sanitized at the door (The stores have hand sanitizer but they keep it for use in the store), and go find what I need.
The vegetables are mostly sad, Dutch and Chinese vegetables. Nothing technically wrong with them, and there is a wide choice. It's not like my Iraqi grocer in Copenhagen or the local farmer who isn't ready yet because the earth is still freezing, but I can get all the vegetables. There were lovely Egyptian garlic. Maybe I should have bought those.
There is no couscous, but I'm betting that has more to do with this being off season and the locals not being that much into couscous. There is a selection of anchovies, and all the pasta shapes you need. I bought a can of ful medames, to be on the safe side, but I suspect I am the only one who ever buys them so the rest will be there for me to pick over the next months. I couldn't find my favorite sparkling water, but our tap water is fine, and there were several other brands available that I already have.
TP is abundant.
How can it be so different from country to country?
posted by mumimor at 12:41 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


also for everyone saying "oh well it's only natural that people told to quarantine for weeks at a time would buy a lot of supplies," you are missing the fact that the hoarding and locust-like swarming of supermarkets began minimum a full week before anyone mentioned quarantines or sheltering in place, if not earlier.

Like grumpybear69, I disagree with this too. In fact, early, when we were at the tipping point of “maybe this is scary, maybe not”, there was a lot of discussion online over preparing for both the possibility of being sick and unable to go to the store for 2 weeks , the possibility of self quarantining for 2 weeks, and the possibility of a Hubei style government quarantine where we’d be forced to stay at home with whatever provisions we had there. Hell my office was WFH for about 3 days before the panic buying was striping the store shelves, and the school announce extended break/online learning days prior. CDC was linking too their general advice of having at least 2 weeks of supplies and food on hand. A lot of this was in February.

I’ve been pissed at people on Facebook bitching about “hoarders” but it’s what we were told to do. And who would trust the government to step in should you be caught without food?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:53 PM on March 26 [15 favorites]


Relevant AskMe posted Feb. 28: "It's not hoarding, it's planning: possible pandemic pantry edition."

California's Stay at Home order, which was the first in the nation, was issued around 11pm on Mar. 19. The markets had already been mostly cleaned out by then.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:56 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


A lot of the restaurant distributors here in Philly have started selling to the public. I would not normally think I could use a 3lb bag of shredded mozzarella before it went bad, but now that I'm home and cooking all the time it's pretty appealing, especially at wholesale prices. Plus it helps the distributor stay in business, takes some pressure off the supermarkets, and I think can be picked up with much less human contact.

I'm surprised more stores haven't gone back to the Victorian model of you give them a list of what you want, they bring it to you, you do not walk around and handle things yourself. Safer and easier for employees, safer for people walking around, and avoids jerks like the person who coughed all over the produce.

I'm still annoyed at the woman in a facebook group I'm in who suggested people go to the regional food distribution market to get cheap groceries. It literally supplies most of the fruits and vegetables for the entire region, but what we really need are some randos wandering around for their first time among the forklifts.

If anything it's amazed me at how quickly the whole system here has reoriented itself. Restaurants have switched to mass-cooking meals for people in need and health care workers, distributors are selling to the public, bakeries are selling direct and donating to the restaurants doing meal distribution, people are donating to the restaurants.
posted by sepviva at 1:00 PM on March 26 [10 favorites]


I've become pretty annoyed with all the mockery about toilet paper, how people believe it will protect them from coronavirus (we don't, because we're not stupid), how you can't eat it, etc.

The reason I wanted to make sure we had enough TP is because a) Covid-19 does indeed cause GI symptoms, and b) I have three teenagers here and if toilet hygiene falls to individual improvisation, a bad situation can quickly turn into a true nightmare. I can't blame anybody for wanting to make sure they don't run out of reliably disposable stuff to clean fecal matter off their body with.
posted by witchen at 1:13 PM on March 26 [12 favorites]


I'm hoping to see more new alternative options pop up in the part of LA County I'm in, whether restaurant suppliers selling to the public, or restaurants developing new offerings. So far it just seems like either the normal take-out places are open, or you go the market and hope for the best.

All the standard meal-delivery apps are overloaded, and I don't see much of anything new there either.

I'm told if I want to drive into Downtown there are restaurants doing meal kits and etc, but that seems excessive and wasteful even though there's basically no traffic.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:17 PM on March 26


When the first few cases hit the US I asked my partner to make a stock-up Costco run in case things went bad, and I mocked her then for picking up a flat of TP.

She's been reminding me of that lately.
posted by hwyengr at 1:20 PM on March 26 [7 favorites]


Re-education might be needed, too. Like, you don’t really need to use 1/4 of a roll in one go.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:33 PM on March 26 [8 favorites]


I'm not a prepper, but I normally keep probably around a week's worth of shelf-stable food (and water) in the house. (Along with other things: astounded by the number of people [admittedly, mostly those without kids] who I've learned don't have a thermometer!) When I heard that the COVID quarantine was fourteen days, that obviously changed the math. (Also it just so happened that all of this coincided with the twice-a-year check-the-supplies-for-expiration date for me, meaning I had to discard and replace some items.) Knowing that you could literally be confined to your home for fourteen days, it is entirely reasonable for you to try to get fourteen days' worth of supplies. And even just knowing that you'd be working from home and thus eating (and, uh, digesting) most of your meals there would require adjustment. I didn't have to stock up like some crazy person, but I did have to do some extra buying, in addition to just the ordinary groceries. And this has been going on for (for me) about three weeks now.

Funnily enough, the perishables, which are what I need to keep topping off, are generally available.
posted by praemunire at 1:34 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


Re-education might be needed, too. Like, you don’t really need to use 1/4 of a roll in one go.

If Americans actually start eating enough fiber, maybe they won't have to.
posted by deadaluspark at 1:46 PM on March 26 [4 favorites]


Picking up a bit extra so you have say two weeks food etc instead of one is not really panic buying, and is basically reasonable. Buying a trolley-load of a limited supply, then coming back for another load, and another is panic buying, or hoarding, or profiteering. I can't speak to any other country but the UK, but you only have to speak to supermarket staff and they've all got stories about seeing the same faces come in over and over again and walk out with carloads of supplies in the last couple of weeks. Nor do you have to look far on ebay to find many new sellers with large quantities of rare products to sell, despite the crackdowns.

Locking down amount of items per transaction helped a little, but it just meant they'd just out and straight back in again - they had the delivery times down pat, so could strip the shelves bare in minutes.

What's actually appeared to have had an impact is the lockdown and social distancing now in effect - stores only allow a much reduced number of people in the store at a time, so the queue to get in (all suitably spaced) is quite lengthy. Much harder to strip out a shop when you've a half hour wait to get in each time and can only buy 2 per visit, and people who don't actually *need* much because they're already stocked up are too impatient to wait. I and friends have actually been able to buy toilet paper and pasta in the last few days, and the fruit & veg section has gone from empty to much better. Gaps remain of course, but it looks more like post-xmas than a zombie apocalypse it has for the last two weeks.

But it is true that there is very, very little slack with modern just-in-time delivery chains. That's the point, stock that's in warehouses or growing dusty on shelves isn't making any money, and between stockholders demanding every greater profit and growth, ever-increasing business rates due to cash-strapped councils, and you're competiting against companies like Amazon that get to pretty much ignore local taxes, labour laws and are prepared to run at a loss to gain market share, eking out every sliver of efficiency is essential to stay a functional retail business.

So there just isn't the slack there to cope with a sustained increase in demand at short notice, and you can only throw so many trucks and warm bodies short term at the problem when demand suddenly changes so heavily. I think supermarkets here have done pretty well at reworking their supply chains with the constraints they're under. And I do not envy shop floor workers AT ALL given the amount of abuse they get daily from entitled Karens and gammons et al constantly demanding they hand over stock 'in the back' they simply haven't got. Supermarkets haven't had any significant space 'out back' for many years now, cages pretty much roll straight off the lorries and onto the shop floor.

TLDR; the problem is *both* assholes and end-stage capitalism. Resolving either issue is one I leave to better qualified people than I.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 1:49 PM on March 26 [13 favorites]


I mocked and vilified the hoarders, but as several people have adroitly pointed out here, you didn't have to be prepper paranoid to realize that, between the lines, we were being told to hoard. "Get it now, because it will be difficult to impossible to get it in the foreseeable future".
posted by Chitownfats at 1:50 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


People being told that they might have to self-quarantine for 14 days if they develop flulike symptoms and also being told not to buy too much or make unnecessary trips. It's absurd. Of course people are buying extra because they don't know when they might be locked inside for two weeks with no warning!

Plus, it honestly doesn't make much increase in demand to lead to bare shelves. Grocery is a famously low-margin business and they don't order more than they have to based on historical demand.

Like, typically in a 2-week period I spend between $100-200 on groceries. So far in this 2-week period, I've spent $350. And I'm not hoarding, just buying an extra box of spaghetti here, maybe some snacks that I don't normally buy because stress eating is all I have to do, etc. Multiply that by thousands of people and it's easy to see how supermarkets would be cleaned out.
posted by Automocar at 1:53 PM on March 26 [12 favorites]


I'm surprised more stores haven't gone back to the Victorian model of you give them a list of what you want, they bring it to you, you do not walk around and handle things yourself. Safer and easier for employees, safer for people walking around, and avoids jerks like the person who coughed all over the produce.

One of our local grocery store chains used to have that pre-COVID (and it was *amazing* especially with a newborn human), but had to suspend it--they needed the employees on stocking duty and they were having trouble keeping the online stock up to date. I'm hoping that it'll come back when the supply chains have recovered/people have mostly finished stocking up, though.
posted by damayanti at 1:56 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


(Along with other things: astounded by the number of people [admittedly, mostly those without kids] who I've learned don't have a thermometer!)

So just for everyone else--if this is you, a digital meat thermometer will probably work, should you happen to have one instead. Obviously be careful putting it in your mouth.

(We didn't have a thermometer because when the kiddo was small, every time we bought one it was a piece of crap and we gave up; most of the time, you can tell if someone has a fever without knowing the exact temperature, which hasn't been necessary until now).
posted by emjaybee at 2:08 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


every time we bought one it was a piece of crap

Seriously! In the last three years I went through three cheapo Walgreens thermometers, and now I won't be able to get a new thermometer until approximately 2036. Here's hoping no one gets sick!
posted by zeusianfog at 2:24 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Remember this post back on January 30th to the blue? That's how early people in this specific community might have gotten rumblings of the need to prepare. It seems forever ago now; I know it made me start to take the idea of making sure my house could go two weeks without grocery shopping seriously, which is good because Seattle was hit earlier than other places in the states.
posted by foxfirefey at 2:26 PM on March 26 [11 favorites]


Re-education might be needed, too. Like, you don’t really need to use 1/4 of a roll in one go.

Teaching arseholes a lesson since 2020.
posted by biffa at 2:28 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


But it is true that there is very, very little slack with modern just-in-time delivery chains.

It's really crazy to see the dichotomy of comments like this given the fact that people shop in warehouse stores, and the supposition is I guess that Costco should add a 2nd story to stock extra toilet paper of all things. I mean, I would suppose that a SuperTarget gives close to 1000 sq ft to toilet paper alone in the aisle, which is larger than the average apartment. I bet it is close to double that at a Costco given the taller stacking.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:38 PM on March 26


Cool article to make you feel better for hoarding. A friendly reminder that some of us can't hoard because we a) didn't have disposable income or b) don't live in giant houses.
posted by iamck at 2:40 PM on March 26 [12 favorites]


Yep, iamck: Like the old joke... I can't afford to save money like all those Costco shoppers!

(I'm lucky enough to be in a decent financial spot myself, but I just don't have the tendency to stockpile much of anything, ever)
posted by SoberHighland at 2:44 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Toilet paper demand in the US was up 845% per week.

Possibly just-in-time production might have made things worse, though nobody seems to have any actual evidence for it.

But that's far too big a jump for just-in-time ordering systems in supermarkets to have made things worse. Before the tills communicated directly with the DCs (warehouses), supermarkets had indeed to keep more stock in the back in case they ran out waiting for the next regular delivery. But supermarkets never kept multiple weeks worth of stock in the back. To do that, the back rooms would have had to be massively bigger than the stores themselves.

Toilet paper may be high profile enough for the store managers to have kept on top of things in the old days. But with dozens of products in high demand, without the tills communicating with the DCs, there would probably be greater shortages of many items, as everything relied on the managers noticing the extra demand and manually deciding to place bigger orders.

There were no good old days when the system could just cope untroubled with massive surges of demand for bulk goods.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:45 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Inside the Story of How H-E-B Planned for the Pandemic. It turns out that our Texas grocery chain has been preparing for a pandemic event and considering its response for fifteen years.
posted by sciatrix at 2:45 PM on March 26 [17 favorites]


Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza: "What is going to effect supply chains is the thousands of migrant workers stuck in Mexico behind a closed border and seasons are coming up fast. My family's farms have only about a quarter the labor they need right now."

Canada at least is making cross-border travel restriction exceptions for temporary foreign workers, including seasonal agricultural workers, fish-seafood workers, and caregivers.

CBC News: Travel exemptions offered to students, foreign workers as Canada closes border to stop COVID-19
posted by Secret Sparrow at 3:46 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


In a couple weeks when an officer of the law notices a box truck at the side of the road selling each roll for $5 it would seem a reasonable for him to pull over with a copy of the statute on war time price gouging and encourage the entrepreneur to become a philanthropist and sell his supply at a reasonable price where he swallows only a small loss.
posted by sammyo at 4:23 PM on March 26


I went shopping on Monday and wanted to buy 10 cans of chick peas - because that's what I usually buy when we're low. But I bought only 2, because the store was rationing. So I guess no massive chana masala for me this week - just a little one.

(no, I don't use 10 cans a week. but I could easily use 4-6, and I shop every two weeks or so for canned stuff).
posted by jb at 4:36 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


I work at the biggest supermarket distribution warehouse in my region. The three days following Norway's lockdown were followed by our busiest days at work.

There was no supply shortage of anything, let alone toilet paper (which has near infinite shelf-life and is produced and stored in enormous quantities.)

The only reason some shelves were empty for two days was the dramatic shift in consumer behaviour that the logistics could not possibly handle on such short notice.

I work in the fresh fruits and vegetables department, which is the only one that so far runs more or less normally, since hoarding would not make any kind of sense. Except for potatoes. People have seen The Martian, and they are planning to use their feces to grow more potatoes in their living rooms.

Maybe? We're selling a stupid amount of potatoes.
posted by Dumsnill at 4:39 PM on March 26 [22 favorites]


they are planning to use their feces to grow more potatoes in their living rooms.

Hometasking!
posted by clew at 4:45 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


I ordered two personal bidets that day a couple weeks ago when all of the shelves were suddenly empty. This is in case my SO or I get sick with a virus and can't shop (any virus - if either of us gets sick we will self quarantine until a test clears us. I'm still working in an office building). And really, I should have gotten an actual bidet a long time ago. I mean the kind that attaches. I'm never going to have a Toto toilet, or anything. But maybe this is how I finally stop using toilet paper? Maybe this virus really will "change everything", as they keep saying--when all is said an done?
posted by marimeko at 4:52 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


The feds maintain minimum reserve requirements for banks

As of today, not anymore.
posted by spacewaitress at 4:56 PM on March 26 [5 favorites]


I have to confess I am insanely curious what the great toilet paper crisis of 2020 is going to do to toilet paper brand loyalty.

Will this be like when Londoners took different routes to work after the Underground problems?
posted by srboisvert at 4:57 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


they are planning to use their feces to grow more potatoes in their living rooms.

Unexpected Tenacious D. I fell in love with a baked potato.
posted by deadaluspark at 4:57 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Yes, the potato thing is frustrating. Onions were on short supply for a while too. I guess they do keep longer than other vegetables so it makes sense to get them but on my regular potato purchasing and eating schedule the last couple in the bag aren't in great shape. If I bought an extra bag I might as well cut it up and plant it in the garden because it would be going into the compost bin otherwise.

My local supermarket now seems to consistently have milk and eggs in stock but they've instituted a limit of 2 of each. If I don't get 2 then I'll have to come an extra time during the week but I want the shelves to remain stocked so that people don't panic buy so I just get 1 of each and plan to go again during the week. Who knows maybe they'll have bread flour in stock then because it is annoying to get it from the bulk food store.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:11 PM on March 26


Toilet paper demand in the US was up 845% per week.

that's a LOT more than everyone buying a two weeks' supply - it has to be

if everyone's usually buying a week's supply for a week and then they decide to buy two more weeks' supply, that would be an increase of 300%

considering not everyone has been buying it like crazy - some are hoarding, period
posted by pyramid termite at 5:22 PM on March 26 [4 favorites]


I finally got myself out of Saskatoon and to Toronto for my sabbatical -- just in time for Robarts to shutter its doors, and for all the local supermarkets to empty their shelves. I have supplies and stockpiles and a chest freezer in my large house two provinces away but I'm here, in a bachelor the size of my bedroom at home. I've only just managed to find a toilet brush (TRIUMPH AND I NO LONGER HAVE TO LOOK AT THE RING) and still can't find bleach or any kind of disinfectant.

I found potatoes and have some small amounts of rice, but still haven't been able to buy garlic, of all things. People are obviously cooking much, much more, and they're stress baking (no yeast, either), probably because the kids are home and everyone is eating 3 meals a day and snacks out of the kitchen.

I'm more concerned with the effects of just in time supply chains on things like masks and face shields for doctors and nurses, though.
posted by jrochest at 5:24 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


I am impressed by the people who shit 183 times per day based on the number of rolls in their carts. I have six rolls and they will last me a month.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:27 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Last week, acting on a hot tip from Nextdoor, I found toilet paper at the local Latin supermarket when it had been sold out for ages at Publix. Unbranded rolls, individually wrapped in paper instead of plastic. I grabbed four, not wanting to hog it, along with some yeast and white flour which had also been sold out at Publix. As I was checking out, the guy who came into the line behind me had one hundred twenty-four rolls of toilet paper. I try to give people around me the benefit of the doubt and think kindly of everyone, but really? 124 rolls? When I got home I told my husband the story and he said, "Well, you could have hogged it a little bit more, like eight rolls or something." (I was able to get an 18-pack of Charmin-equivalent at Target a couple days later when I was on an emergency run for hand lotion, which it turns out you need a lot more of when you're washing your hands a hundred times a day, so we're good for now.)
posted by Daily Alice at 5:45 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Wow. A 4-pack lasts me 2-3 months at least. Granted I'm male (so single- vs. dual-context requirements) and I live alone; but I eat pretty normally, my digestive system is appropriately active, and while I try not use more than I really need per...usage, I'm not trying to aggressively minimize my TP utilization either. Am I really such an outlier?

As it is, I happened to buy two 4-packs as part of my normal shopping routine a couple weeks before everything went nuts, so I'm good until like September...

Next day: Greg_Ace reports a burglary, TP stock a total loss
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:03 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


Around here (anecdotally), it's been the giant stores that have run out of toilet paper and such, not the smaller ones.

Around here I'd say that the more a store appeals to fancy anglos, the more likely it is to be still very busy and (from reports) somewhat stripped.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:24 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


The trick is to get capitalism to work for us, rather than against us, especially in times of need such as this. Tiered pricing, as set by a Danish store, really seems like it would do the trick to me.

First bottle of hand sanitizer: $4
Second bottle of hand sanitizer: $95
posted by fragmede at 6:32 PM on March 26 [13 favorites]


I have been waiting for quite some time to wipe with my hand and shout SOCIETY HAS FORCED THIS UPON ME at anyone within earshot.
posted by delfin at 7:08 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


In a couple weeks when an officer of the law notices a box truck at the side of the road selling each roll for $5 it would seem a reasonable for him to pull over with a copy of the statute on war time price gouging

Here in BC, Canada, "the province is cracking down on the black market by prohibiting resale of food, medical supplies, personal protective equipment, cleaning products and other essential supplies. People who ignore the order can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for one year, or both."

and avoids jerks like the person who coughed all over the produce.

I never would have thought that there would be a 5th column for a virus.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:48 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


I am impressed by the people who shit 183 times per day based on the number of rolls in their carts. I have six rolls and they will last me a month.

My household has five adults, three of them women. When one of them is on her period--pads only--we normally go through a roll a day.

Our local store regularly gets in shipments of bulk packs, so we bought those when they had them. (Different brand, double-sized rolls; these will last longer even if they're not as soft.) And then a few days later, we bought two more, one of which has been delivered to a friend who starts chemo on Monday.

I get that a lot of the bulk buyers aren't necessarily buying for large families and for shut-in friends, but some of them are.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:38 PM on March 26 [10 favorites]


Tiered pricing, as set by a Danish store, really seems like it would do the trick to me.

That means everyone gets one, and the ultra-rich get all they want.
posted by JHarris at 9:17 PM on March 26 [4 favorites]


We live in a dense urban area adjacent to NYC and have been through 9/11, the blackout, 2008 crash and Sandy.

Our strategy starting a month-and-a-half-ago or so was to buy a little extra and stock it away where it made sense (dry foods, canned items, etc.). We normally do one run a month to the big box for bulk items and I would grab stuff on my way home from work to make meals.

That has changed dramatically.

There was a run on TP a few weeks ago at the big box, big grocer and big pharma, but the smaller stores still had some stock. Haven't been to the big stores since, but the supplies are fine locally. The delivery trucks are refreshing on a regular - if not accelerated - schedule for our local markets and the shelves are stocked when I go in (limiting visits as much as possible).

On the upside, I get to plan menus now?
posted by ryoshu at 10:06 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Other advanced countries with similar lockdowns and similar supply chains, like Germany and Italy, don't have supermarket shortages.

Completely untrue, incidentally

I can’t speak as to Germany, and live in Rome, not Milan. That said, the date on that video is Feb 24. That same day our neighbor told us the shelves were almost empty when she went shopping, so we hightailed it to the ipermart the next morning. The only thing completely out at that point was any clearing product with bleach and hand sanitizer. Did a big stock up anyway. March 5th the schools closed, March 8 they locked down the 14 northern provinces, but not before the damned media leaked a draft resolution leading to an exodus south. March 9th I did another big shop knowing it was only a matter of time before lock down went nation-wide; everything at the same ipermart was still well stocked, including the previously out cleaning products. I had to go out this past Tuesday to stock back up, stood in line for just 30minutes, and the only noticeable thing that was completely out was the mozzarella.

(I can only stock up for max two weeks; there’s only so much storage space in a 100m3 flat.)
posted by romakimmy at 12:43 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


Yeah, in Poland the actual shortages lasted for maybe 5 trading days (March 11 to 16), and mostly in the afternoons because stockers couldn't keep pace with product flying off the shelves. Everything but sanitiser and masks are back in stock now. People do buy more at one go, but it evens out with reduced frequency of shopping trips.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 4:18 AM on March 27


I'm astounded by how well stores are meeting needs so far- early hours for seniors, checkout sneeze shields at the local No Frills, decent amount of fresh produce.

One thing I don't feel the article takes into account is the staggering array of products the average grocery store feels pressured to sell these days. When you think about all the breads, exotic fruit, artisanal snack and sodas, a hundred specialty imported meats and cheeses...a fucking lobster tank! It's no wonder that it's a challenge to instantly shift back to the basics.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:40 AM on March 27 [4 favorites]


i sent my daughter for groceries and she managed to get a 12 pack of scott's - she says it was the only brand they had and it occupied ALL the usual toilet paper space, so they had lots of it

other things were available - milk - eggs - but frozen food seems to be the current hard to find item
posted by pyramid termite at 11:05 AM on March 27


I had to go to the store for the first time in many days. I pull in. I get out and I look at the car right next to me. I can see at least 4-5 HUGE MASSIVE toilet paper things in their back storage area. There is no one in the vehicle so I must assume they are inside trying to get more.

Fucking assholes. FUCK YOU! Fucking. Assholes. Like it was so much that it was cramming a small SUV rear area. ARGHHHHHH.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:32 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


For those of you wondering how much toilet paper other people use, there's an ask about that. Do please keep in mind that people both need more tp at home (not at work or school for most of the day) and are both trying to have enough for a spontaneous 2 week quarantine, just in case, and trying to limit shopping trips. And households come in many sizes.
posted by Margalo Epps at 12:05 PM on March 27 [6 favorites]


I've heard anecdotally from some supply chain people that the softwood/paper industry isn't upping production of TP because they don't expect the demand for TP to really change all that much. Yes the packaging changes, from big rolls to smaller ones for instance, but toilet paper is pretty much flat in terms of overall national demand. The supply chains have emptied out, but will refill as people slow down their buying—it's not like the people who bought 48 rolls two weeks ago are going to need to buy any more anytime soon.

They are, supposedly, raising production of facial tissues, because the demand for tissues isn't flat, it's hugely seasonal with a big peak in the fall/winter, and they are expecting COVID to lead to a big out-of-season demand.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:10 PM on March 27 [8 favorites]


Wow. A 4-pack lasts me 2-3 months at least. Granted I'm male (so single- vs. dual-context requirements) and I live alone

My male roommate uses five times as much TP as I do. I have not asked him why.
posted by Melismata at 2:08 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]


I would love to see a parameterized model that tries to set estimated upper and lower bounds for personal toilet paper usage based on a bunch of different vectors including everything from minimum and maximum squareage per wipe, wipes per typical sitting, wipes per acute sitting, frequency of acute sittings, coefficients of static and dynamic friction on toilet paper dispenser, ratio of arm length to ass distance, etc.
posted by cortex at 2:12 PM on March 27


My male roommate uses five times as much TP as I do. I have not asked him why.
I haven't felt the urge to enter this discussion before your comment. Every year, my brother and his family of four visits me once or twice for a week. He has two sons. I love them dearly. I never blame them and I don't investigate. But every single time they are here they break my sewage system. I just factor it in with the other expenses of hosting my dearest and nearest.
If I were to contribute with a very non-scientific opinion, I'd say that one's dietary choices have an effect on ones use of TP.
posted by mumimor at 2:25 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]




We built up some stockpiles for Brexit (by increasing shopping here and there over the course of a few months) so we are still set for beans and rice and lentils and all of those sorts of things.

A lot of people mocked us (lightly) for having a Brexit stockpile, but having a stockpile of shelf stable tins and pulses and stuff had little downside and it turns out considerable upside.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 12:53 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


Yep. The Brexit stockpile has been good to us. Gradual accumulation here, as well.
posted by skybluepink at 3:01 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


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