Here we go again: Another toilet paper shortage?

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE)- Here we go again. As coronavirus cases continue to rise, Charlotte area grocery stores are once again experiencing a familiar refrain from the start of the pandemic: a run on toilet paper and paper towels.

“We’re starting to see demand tick back up again,” said Katie Denis with the Consumer Brands Association, a trade organization representing companies that make personal care and cleaning products.

On Wednesday, FOX 46 visited a Harris Teeter, Publix, Walmart, Food Lion and Target located in Charlotte, Concord and Belmont. We found row after row of empty, or nearly empty, shelves of toilet paper and paper towels.

At the start of the pandemic, people scrambled to buy toilet paper in a panic buy that led to widespread shortages and price gouging. Denis says suppliers are better positioned now to meet demand.

“The single focus of the industry is making sure people get what they need and doing everything possible to meet those needs,” she said. “Our companies have been running at peak production for quite some time, 24/7 shifts, you know, just whatever they can do, external manufacturers that they’re bringing on.”

“Understanding that we have a real responsibility to consumers,” she added. “We make essentials and people can’t go without. So we take that very seriously.”

Off camera, shoppers tell Fox 46 they are frustrated. To avoid hoarding and shelf clearing, retailers like Publix, Target and Harris Teeter are once again limiting how much certain items, like toilet paper, customers can buy.

Food Lion and Walmart did not immediately respond.

You see a restriction, you automatically assume, ‘I need this. I should probably get this if it’s limited. I have to have this,’” said Denis. “On top of that, we do have rising cases [of COVID-19], we are facing winter, I think there’s all sorts of factors that are coming into play where we see demand ticking up.”

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In an earnings call, Walmart confirmed it is seeing shortages on bath tissues and cleaning supplies in areas hit hardest by the coronavirus. Walmart said it is not experiencing a shortage of hand sanitizers or masks.

“They’re just stocking up on paper goods, cleaning supplies, and dry grocery should they need them,” said Walmart CEO Doug McMillon. “And so, I think 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 still stressed in some places. It’s disappointing….although it’s a whole lot better than it was earlier in the year.”

“I think we’ll manage through these curves. They’ll be localized. We’ll respond,” said McMillon. “But it feels to me that we’ll work through this period of time better than we did in the first wave.”

Publix Response

“Last week we implemented customer purchase limits on paper towels and bath tissue due to much higher customer demand, and we, like all other retailers, are on allocation from our suppliers. We continue to monitor other categories and adjust as necessary. As an aside, stores reserve the right to limit quantities as well to best serve their customers.

In addition to the limits we have in place, we ask customers to shop only for the items they need. As we have continuously shared, the supply chain is resilient. We need to do our part and allow it an opportunity to rebound.” – Jared Glover, Publix Media Relations Manager

Harris Teeter Response

“To ensure all shoppers have access to what they need, we’ve proactively and temporarily set purchase limits to two per customer on certain products. Details on specific categories available here.” – Danna Robinson, Harrist Teeter Communication Manager

Target Response

A Target spokesperson directed us to the following links containing information about how the company is keeping stores safe, what customers can expect when they shop, and what they are doing to get shoppers essential products:   

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