We're out of toilet paper again.
Households across the U.S. are once again filling grocery carts brimful in a second round of panic buying as the virus surges and states clamp down on economic activity. Defensive purchasing is affecting everything from paper towels to bacon. Even the world's biggest retailer is reporting shortages of high-demand items, including cleaning supplies, breakfast foods — and the most important commodity in any bathroom.
"It really does have everything to do with what's happening with COVID cases in any particular community," Walmart's chief executive officer, Doug McMillon, said on an earnings call in the past week. "We're going to be able to respond in this instance better than we did in the first half of the year, although we're still — as a total supply chain — stressed in some places."
The new wave of pantry stockpiling hits about eight months after the March boom, meaning makers of packaged food and household items have had some time to prepare. General Mills Inc. added 45 external production lines through contractors this year, while Campbell Soup Co. spent $40 million to expand production of Goldfish crackers, a must for parents cooped up with toddlers. Still, at-home demand is surging, accelerated by a new wave of indoor-dining bans.
Cathy Smith had a pack of toilet-paper rolls in her cart at the checkout of a Ralph's grocery in West Los Angeles at midday Friday with a few "last-minute" items to prepare her Thanksgiving meal, including a 16-pound turkey.
"I'm not totally in panic mode yet," she said. "I don't watch the news, because it is too depressing, but my husband did and he warned me that things are getting worse. So I thought I'll stock up."
Over the last three weeks, demand for nonperishable items such as paper goods, canned goods, spices, broths and canned vegetables jumped 60-70%, according to Centricity Inc., a platform that tracks online activity like searches and e-commerce.
That's on top of "meteoric" year-over-year increases for pantry staples, said Mike Brackett, Centricity's chief executive officer.
Shoppers may start to see purchase limits again, said Jim Dudlicek, spokesman for the National Grocers Association. Consumers should shop earlier in the day to "have best pick from freshly stocked shelves, but to be mindful of their neighbors and take only what they need," he said. Some grocers are using social media to provide updates on hot products, and at least one is providing bulletins on a radio program.