Toilet Paper Shortage Strikes Taiwan Amid Pricing Panic

A city inspector checked toilet paper supplies on Monday at a store in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, to ensure inventory was not being held back.

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Across Taiwan’s major cities, consumers are in a near panic over a shortage of one of modern life’s basic necessities: toilet paper.

From Taipei in the north to Tainan in the south, retailers are having difficulty keeping it on their shelves, as reports of imminent price increases have sent consumers rushing to stores to stock up on the household staple, which in Taiwan is sold folded in packs rather than as rolls.

Taiwan’s toilet paper producers notified retailers on Friday that prices would increase 10 to 30 percent as soon as mid-March as a result of rising pulp prices on the global market, according to a report by Taiwan’s Central News Agency.

Credit...Kaohsiung City Government/European Pressphoto Agency

In Taipei’s Da’an district on Tuesday, PX Mart’s paper products section was down to its last few small packages of toilet paper; all the bulk packs were sold out. Around the corner, the situation was just as desperate at a normally well-stocked 7-Eleven convenience store, where an employee said stocks disappeared as soon as they were replenished. The rush on toilet paper was a top story for local newspapers stacked next to the cash register.

Things weren’t much different in the virtual world.

“The cost of toilet paper will go up soon, have you prepared?” asked text at the top of a dedicated web page of the online retailer PChome. Just below the ominous advertisement, which was superimposed over a fear-inducing image of empty shelves, the website was offering bulk deals on toilet paper by local and foreign brands.

According to a statement issued Sunday by Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs, toilet paper producers, including the local companies YFY Inc. and Cheng Loong Corporation as well as Kimberly-Clark Taiwan, have all reported that their supplies of the pulp used to make toilet paper are adequate.

The price increases stem in part from supply disruptions in short-fiber pulp after forest fires in Canada and production problems in Brazil.

The ministry statement said that the price of pulp accounts for nearly half the cost of toilet paper in Taiwan, which has little in the way of its own resources to produce paper for the bathroom or otherwise.

It also encouraged Taiwanese consumers to choose toilet paper with recycled content, noting that in Taiwan only 5 percent of the toilet paper and tissues comes from recycled paper, compared with 65 percent in neighboring Japan and more than half in the United States and Europe.

While acknowledging that local producers are particularly sensitive to shifts in international pulp prices, the ministry also said it would watch the situation on behalf of consumers to guard against price gouging.

“If we discover any abnormal movements in market prices or that companies are working together to unfairly drive up prices,” it will ask the Fair Trade Commission to investigate, the ministry said.

The run on toilet paper highlights the high price sensitivity of the Taiwanese market, where wages have stagnated for years while housing prices have gone up. President Tsai Ing-wen has made increasing wages a central goal for her administration this year.

The stock prices of both YFY Inc. and Cheng Loong Corporation declined on Tuesday.

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