Loo beauty! Toilet paper shortage is bottoming out

The great toilet roll of shortage of 2020 could turn out to be a flash in the pan with some South Australia supermarkets expecting to be almost fully stocked within days.

The anticipated return to a degree of sanity follows an extraordinary 22 per cent hike in supermarket spending last month, fuelled largely by coronavirus restriction concerns.

Such overstocking will very shortly lead to more measured spending as shoppers realise there is no need to panic, said Roger Drake, who heads up Drakes Supermarkets - the largest independent grocery retailer in Australia.

"We are definitely coming back to some sort of normality," he said.

"I am predicting we will have plenty of toilet paper back by the end of next week.

"Hand sanitiser will not be a problem (either)."

Roger Drake says shelves could be fully stocked with toilet paper by the end of next week. Picture: Kelly Barnes/The Australian
Roger Drake says shelves could be fully stocked with toilet paper by the end of next week. Picture: Kelly Barnes/The Australian

The stampede to stockpile toilet paper was like nothing Mr Drake - who opened his first store in SA in 1974 - had ever encountered.

"It was like three Christmases in a couple of weeks. We sold nine months of toilet paper in four days," he said.

"I think there was a herd mentality because toilet paper covers a bigger area in stores, of 20 metres, and when people see the empty shelves they think they need to buy.

"If you are out of spice or something similar, it isn't as bad."

A shortage of supermarket stock more generally has never been an issue, Mr Drake said, but several products made on the eastern seaboard had been held up by delays in plastic packaging materials arriving from China.

Supermarket giant Woolworths is also upbeat.

 

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"We've been making steady progress in improving product availability, particularly in the toilet paper and hand sanitiser categories, for our SA customers," a Woolworths spokesperson said.

"The hard work behind the scenes with our suppliers has been greatly assisted by recent moderation in customer demand, and we encourage shoppers to continue buying only what they need.

"We'll continue our efforts to bring product availability back to normal."

Already the trend to over-spend is being wiped out.

Woolworths sold 11.5 million toilet rolls last week - down from 15 million the week before and 20 million the week before that.

Highlighting the coming return to standard promotional cycles is a move by Woolworths to bring back its popular printed catalogues, which had been placed on hold, along with weekly discounts, to try and discourage overspending by shoppers.

Empty toilet paper shelves at Coles supermarket in Adelaide only last month. Picture: AAP Image/Kelly Barnes
Empty toilet paper shelves at Coles supermarket in Adelaide only last month. Picture: AAP Image/Kelly Barnes

Earlier this week, Woolworths announced it is no longer sending toilet paper from its Gepps Cross distribution centre to Victoria, and denied local stores ever missed out on their "fair share" of supplies.

The SA facility was used for several weeks to receive and dispatch sought-after supplies to Victorian supermarkets, in response to unprecedented demand from shoppers across Australia.

Supplies to all states were at all times distributed "fairly and in line with sales demand", a Woolworths spokesman said.

Meanwhile Citi chief economist Josh Williamson has warned that whatever goes up, will very shortly come down.

"There will be serious payback in April," he said in relation to the vast March supermarket spend.

"(April) will be "the first month where retail trade was fully covered by the closure of or rapid scaling down of non-essential businesses and social distancing."

 

Originally published as Loo beauty! SA toilet paper shortage is bottoming out

It is hoped shelves will be fully stocked again very soon. Picture: Valerina Changarathil
It is hoped shelves will be fully stocked again very soon. Picture: Valerina Changarathil

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