Shelves were emptied of paper goods at a ShopRite in...

Shelves were emptied of paper goods at a ShopRite in Uniondale last week.  Credit: Getty Images/Al Bello

Worries over the coronavirus pandemic have led to store shelves being swiped bare of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and household cleaning products daily.

Grocers and other retailers are working overtime to try to restock, only to have them snatched bare by worried customers within a few hours.

Smaller chains are having a harder time, but the issue isn’t supply, it’s exaggerated demand, according to retail experts.

A Stew Leonard’s in East Meadow sold out of toilet paper quickly Monday morning, while the chain’s  store in Farmingdale "sold out a few days ago and is waiting on another shipment,” said Meghan Bell, spokeswoman for the Norwalk, Connecticut-based chain of seven stores.

Not only has the King Kullen in Bay Shore been out of toilet tissue for days, despite a sign limiting each customer to three, but the grocery store is also out of bread, meat and most of its Italian food items, a store employee said Monday evening.

“People are buying too many.  We need a rationing system like during World War II… but people are just taking,” the employee said.

The availability of toilet paper varies by store, said Stop & Shop spokeswoman Stefanie Shuman. A Holbrook location was out of toilet tissue Monday evening, according to a store employee.

The issue isn’t a shortage in manufacturing as much as it is hoarding, retail experts said.
“Our industry is working 24/7.  Product is going up and obviously, the demand has skyrocketed.  But people are going in and wiping the shelves completely clean,” said Leslie Lake, spokeswoman for the Consumer Brands Association, an Arlington, Virginia-based group that represents companies in the consumer packaged goods industry.

Georgia-Pacific, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of toilet paper, paper towels and other paper products, is seeing twice as much retail demand for its products and is shipping out 120% more than its normal capacity, said Eric Abercrombie, spokesman for the Atlanta-based company, whose brands include Brawny, Angel Soft and Quilted Northern.

In addition to increasing production, Georgia-Pacific is working through its existing inventory and delivering more products directly to retailers as opposed to using third-party distributors, he said.

Shuman said that "as soon as quantities become available to Stop & Shop, we work quickly to re-stock our shelves and make them available to our customers.”
Stop & Shop has limited purchases of high-demand items, such as hand sanitizer, toilet paper and Lysol wipes, to five per customer.

King Kullen has responded to "the unpredictability of product availability” by suspending all online shopping and on Monday it shortened the hours for all King Kullen stores and its five Wild by Nature natural food stores to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The change allows more time for cleaning and restocking, the chain said.

Stop & Shop reduced its hours to 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. for most stores Monday, and on Thursday, will start reserving the hours of 6 to 7:30 a.m. for shopping by customers at least 60 years old only.  Older adults are one of the populations at higher risk of getting sick from the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.