Orders to limit two on the two-ply are giving shoppers déjà vu. 

It first happened in March when pandemic panic shopping emptied grocery store shelves of all kinds of products, but most urgently, toilet paper and paper towels. 

Then as mass hoarding subsided and consumers began to cope with a new normal, over the summer, the supply chain slowly caught up. What a relief it was to see those 36-roll packs of mega-sized toilet paper stacked so neatly from floor to ceiling.

This week, the shelves were swept bare again, at H-E-B, Target, and other big-box stores, with only the purchase limit signs left standing. 

The cry went out starting Monday on a San Antonio-focused Facebook group established in the spring to share information about where to find everything from rice and beans to free food distributions began discussing the paper product shortages. 

One commenter seemed unconcerned – he had already purchased enough to last him through the end of the year. Others were mystified or frustrated – “Again?”

“All paper products are challenged throughout the globe, but our supply remains strong and limits protect that,” said Dya Campos, spokeswoman for H-E-B. 

Limits are a proven way to stabilize the supply chain, she said, so when you see toilet paper in stores and in shoppers’ carts, it’s because the purchase limits are working. 

“We utilize this temporary tool to prevent supply disruption, which could impact availability,” Campos said. “Supply challenges can range from raw materials [and] manufacturing strains.”

Look out, hoarders, they are on to you. 

But if the issue over tissue is basic supply and demand, is demand really up? 

Not according to an executive with Kimberly-Clark, maker of the popular Cottonelle brand who was interviewed on Nov. 5 by Marketplace Morning Report. While consumption is up, said Ori Ben Shai, it’s under control.

“Yeah, there is a spike. It’s not to the extent that we’ve seen first time around during March, April,” said Shai. “I’d say it seems like people are a little bit less stressed than they were. … But, yeah, you’re seeing game behavior of stocking up to an extent.”

He said the toilet paper makers are working closely with retailers to get the product out and on store shelves. “Part of it is having more inventory through the different stages of [the] supply chain, in the stores themselves or at the retailer’s distribution centers, and with us as well,” Shai added.

In the midst of a pandemic, it’s not hard to understand why there would be shortages of hand sanitizer, disinfectants, and pantry staples. But why are people stockpiling toilet paper? 

One study blamed it on a personality type that is more emotional, more conscientious, and more fearful of COVID-19 than the rest of the population. 

Another market study found a segment of the population was hoarding due to the uncertainty over the upcoming elections and worry about social unrest tied to racial concerns.  

Whatever the cause, not all H-E-Bs are sold out of paper goods, said a spokeswoman. 

And if the hunt is on, H-E-B opened its newest San Antonio store Oct. 30 – a 112,000-square-foot superstore on the far West Side at 14325 Potranco Rd. There are more than 120 H-E-B stores in San Antonio.

H-E-B and its chairman, Charles Butt, are San Antonio Report members. For a full list of supporters, click here.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.