It’s hard to imagine a year where “toilet paper” hit the headlines just as it did in 2020. On the other hand, the last 10 months have been anything but typical.
During the pandemic, it was difficult to find due to the high demand for toilet paper. Images of empty store shelves have become commonplace on social media. More than a lack of flour or disinfectant wipes, the inability to obtain an item as important as toilet paper has caused a stir because it undermines assumptions about what it means to be American in the 21st century. It robs people of the right to wipe.
“Toilet paper represents our civilization,” proclaimed Marcia Mogelonsky, director of insights into Mintel’s food and beverage division, in a blog post published in May.
The lack of the stuff has led buyers to look for alternatives and try options that they may never have considered – or even knew they existed. North American interest in bidets sold by upstarts like Tushy and Poo-Pourri, for example, has never been so high. Same goes for brands of toilet paper, which are better for the planet.
The roll becomes empty
Restrictions in schools, offices and restaurants during the public health crisis have resulted in an increase in the number of people studying, working and eating at home. This, in turn, has led shoppers to routinely fill their carts with toilet paper.
Georgia-Pacific, maker of Angel Soft and Quilted Northern, calculates the average US household uses 409 rolls of toilet paper per year. If everyone stays at home around the clock – which has been more or less the case for some time – that number increases by 40%.
When the Covid-19 outbreak first appeared in March, toilet paper sales were up 90% year over year to $ 1.7 billion, according to Nielsen.
Hoarding became an issue with Kimberly-Clark’s Cottonelle brand running an advertising campaign encouraging people to #ShareASquare. “Instead of storing toilet paper, we should stock up on generosity,” explained a 30-second TV ad.
While purchases cooled in the summer months, a surge in coronavirus cases in the fall matched another rush to buy toilet paper. And just like the first round of panic buying, retailers are again struggling to meet demand. Walmart, for example, is struggling to keep some stores in stock, Walmart US CEO John Furner told analysts during an earnings call last month. Grocers like Kroger and HEB have reintroduced restrictions on the number of rolls customers can take home per visit.
Buyers are looking for a better way
Currently, the toilet paper business is largely controlled by three companies: Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific, owned by Koch Industries. Last year, the category generated $ 9.7 billion in the US alone, according to Euromonitor International.
While people may have bought the same brand of toilet paper from their local grocery store for the past 20 years, the scarcity, coupled with the widespread adoption of household clips online buying, has opened up a universe of possibilities for shoppers. According to market intelligence firm SimilarWeb, web searches for keywords and phrases related to toilet paper hit an all-time high in March. The average monthly search between April and November was 566% higher than the months leading up to March.
The shift in consumer behavior has benefited young brands like No. 2, which make toilet paper from bamboo – a more renewable resource than trees, as the growth is shorter to full height. Samira Far, who founded number 2 last year, said people who went online at the beginning of the pandemic “suddenly became very educated that there are several different types of toilet paper.”