Facebook Twitter

Will Europe toilet paper crisis make it to U.S., replay shortage?

Experts say the challenge is the price of energy — and how much it takes to make toilet paper

SHARE Will Europe toilet paper crisis make it to U.S., replay shortage?
Toilet paper moves out from a cutting machine at the TissuePlus factory in Bangor, Maine.

Toilet paper moves out from a cutting machine at the TissuePlus factory on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Bangor, Maine. Toilet paper prices are rising again, this time because of energy prices in Europe.

Robert F. Bukaty, Associated Press

Do you remember the great toilet paper crisis at the beginning of the pandemic, when people started hoarding what is arguably one of the most important consumables of modern life?

At the time, I wrote about shopping for toilet paper at 4:30 a.m. — not very successfully, I might add. Now, toilet paper prices are rising again, this time because of energy prices in Europe.

Experts say higher prices won’t necessarily translate to a shortage. But it is another notch on inflation’s belt: paying more and getting less. And it could be heading our way.

Bloomberg just reported that “it’s getting expensive to make bathroom rolls, which means reduced production, shortages and even higher prices ahead. It’s the same story across Europe’s entire manufacturing sector.”

The article cites the cost of energy as a primary pain point driving prices up.

“Transforming wood into pulp and then into toilet tissue is very energy-intensive — more so than for other kinds of papers. In Europe, the process is now prohibitively expensive as natural gas and electricity wholesale prices surge to an all-time high,” writes Bloomberg’s Javier Blas.

He’s predicting we’ll start feeling the pain at the cash register, since some toilet paper manufacturers have started raising their prices. And, in some cases, reducing the number of sheets on a TP roll.

USA Today called it “shrinkflation,” noting “wholesale toilet paper prices are climbing to an all-time high.” It says shrinkflation, while common, is an inflation that manufacturers hope you won’t see, where you’re charged the same amount but the package or the product gets a bit smaller.

You see it in lots of products, including some foods, paper products, even candy bars.

The article cites data from the website MousePrint.org, which readers populate by saying what they’re seeing when they shop. Based on that website, per USA Today, “Angel Soft cut the number of its sheets by almost 25% from 425 to 320 per roll. Each square sheet was also trimmed down to 3.8 inches wide instead of 4 inches.”  

Angel Soft manufacturer Georgia Pacific told USA Today it isn’t shrinkflation, but rather a move to thicken the sheets. A spokesman for the company said that the price of some packages was reduced and that the changes just made production more efficient. “Our goal is to maintain — not reduce — the value we provide to the Angel Soft consumer in the wake of rising costs.”

And to be fair, other toilet paper brands are making changes, too.

And though that early pandemic period of toilet paper hoarding had some folks begging friends and colleagues for help, the toilet paper crisis also showed that bad news is hardly ever bad news for everyone.

Fortune said that “luxurious toilets complete with heated seats and cleansing jets of water are so common in Japan they’ve become almost synonymous with its culture. They’re now taking off in the U.S. — thanks in no small part due to pandemic-induced shortages of toilet paper.”