Is there really a paper shortage?

By: Erik Kane | On: March 31, 2020
Is there really a paper shortage?

Many people have been saying that 2020 is getting off on not just the wrong foot, but the worst foot in nearly a hundred years.  With a viral pandemic that, if left unchecked, could rival the Spanish Flu of 1917 and accompanying economic slowdown fears reminiscent of the stock market crash of 1929…it’s easy to see why people are concerned! We’ve all had to summon the gusto to go out and purchase the essentials at some point during the current crisis – and one of the accompanying crises is the complete lack of paper products on the shelves.  Hose Master has been supplying essential products to the paper industry for years, but is the industry now suffering? Are they going to ramp up supply during this trying time? It appears to be the first paper product depression, but is there actually a paper shortage?

Surprisingly, it really hasn’t been a hundred years, or even the first time we’ve seen a toilet paper crisis like this.  In fact, it happened in 1973.  A similar economic slowdown and oil-embargo had created fear that there would be a continued shortage of essential goods – namely toilet paper. As Steuart Henderson Britt, the late Northwestern University marketing professor, put it at the time according to the New York Times: “One person says there could be a problem. The next person says there probably is a problem. The next person says there is a problem.” This rumor mill ran all the way up the social flag pole to Johnny Carson himself: “You can laugh now,” he said on The Tonight Show on December 19, 1973, “but there is an acute shortage of toilet paper.”

Was there a true toilet paper shortage in the US at the time? Nope. Did that stop people from emptying their 401k’s and running out to every store in their area to buy skids of toilet paper? Nope.  Fear and rumor created an environment where everyone felt compelled to get their hands on as much of this essential paper good as they could before it was all “gone.”

In reality, personal paper product production is actually a very secure industry- because it’s essential for the daily life of each person it follows and grows with the population.    And because it get’s consumed at a stable and predictable rate, retailers and dealers are not willing to allocate more shelf space than is needed to a class of items that already take up a huge amount of room! The big question that’s on the minds of all of us who are watching our dwindling personal supplies of TP as we continue to see empty shelves is – is the paper industry going to do anything about this? The answer is…not really!

Capacity for industrial production of items like paper products cost hundreds of millions of dollars to plan and construct.  And because these types of “shortages” are consumer created and often short-term, the most change we may see is some shifting of production from similar items that use the same equipment to toilet paper, and perhaps a slight increase in price as the paper companies capitalize on the short-term demand.  The current crisis doesn’t have any effect on the amount of paper products people are actually consuming – that rate will remain the same. So, toilet paper will continue to be produced at it’s known consumable rate – show up on shelves – and hopefully as fears die down those with hundreds of excess rolls will refrain from buying and draw from their sizable cache.  Then the rest of us can go back to buying our TP as normal.

Even if an industry shift isn’t on the horizon, pulp and paper remains essential to our daily life (clearly!) and will continue to grow and mature with our population.  And Hose Master will continue to be there as a source of expertise and high-quality products for our customers that serve those plants.  If you are in need of metal hose application expertise in a pulp and paper plant – be sure to reach out to us and give us a call at 216-481-2020 or email us at!


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