Why Is Hawaii Short On Toilet Paper?

Mar 13, 2020

Manufacturers say their supply chains haven’t been interrupted. Shippers say cargo volume is normal. So why are many Hawaii stores out of toilet paper?

The shortage became apparent in Hawaii at the end of February, but has since become an issue in Mainland cities.    

A shortage occurs when demand for something exceeds supply. A market change producing a shift in either of those factors can produce a short-term shortage.

So what’s causing the current TP deficit in Hawaii? The good news is that it doesn’t appear to be a supply problem.

At a meeting Thursday of the Hawaii House of Representative’s Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness Committee, Lauren Zirbel of the Hawaii Food Industry Association told members that manufacturers are not currently experiencing supply chain issues.

“We do not currently have a supply chain issue for basic food supplies and we do not anticipate there being a supply chain issue,” Zirbel said.

“Our food supply is not compromised and retailers are expecting full replenishment of toilet paper and other high-demand items in the short term,” she added.

Many retailers are limiting how much toilet paper and hand sanitizer each customer can purchase to prevent hoarding. Zirbel said that will continue.

So it’s not the production of toilet paper that’s causing the shortage. Could the problem be physically getting those goods to Hawaii? That also does not appear to be the case.

Melissa Sato with the Matson shipping company told the committee that the ocean freight carrier does not anticipate any supply-side issues when it comes to cargo and is monitoring employees for symptoms of the virus.

She added that traffic between the Mainland U.S. and Hawaii has not been interrupted.

So if the problem isn’t production or distribution, then why can’t we find toilet paper? The answer appears that we, the consumer, are to blame.

Much like the bank run in the 1946 Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, our run on toilet paper was caused by a crisis of consumer confidence.

When people think there could be a shortage of a particular product, they rush to get some before the supply runs out. If we all do that at once, it creates a shortage.

The federal government guarantees your bank deposits through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to prevent a run on the bank.

No such luck when it comes to toilet paper.