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Toilet paper back on shelves but maybe not your usual, as stores turn to foreign brands

Rather than Charmin, consumers who helped stoke the toilet paper shortage might nowt see Petalo or Regio, both from Mexico, as retailers try to keep their shelves stocked.

Demand for toilet paper has been so high during the coronavirus pandemic that stores have turned to foreign brands like Regio, from Mexico, to keep their shelves stocked.
Demand for toilet paper has been so high during the coronavirus pandemic that stores have turned to foreign brands like Regio, from Mexico, to keep their shelves stocked.
AP

Toilet paper is back on store shelves. But you might not recognize some of the brands.

Demand has been so high during the coronavirus pandemic that stores, trying to keep their shelves stocked, have been buying up foreign toilet paper brands, mostly from Mexico. — names like Regio, Petalo, Hoteles Elite and Daisy Soft.

There’s also Vogue, whose label says in Spanish it smells like chamomile.

Major chains including CVS, Safeway, 7-Eleven and others are carrying the international brands.

The stores say they needed to get creative during the pandemic and started working with new suppliers to get shoppers what they needed.

But don’t worry about popular U.S. brands like Cottonelle and Charmin — they aren’t going to disappear. Supply chain experts expect the Mexican and other foreign-made rolls to be on store shelves only temporarily, until U.S. manufacturers catch up with demand.

Americans use much more toilet paper than other countries, according to Patrick Penfield, a supply chain professor at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management. That’s why Mexico has enough to be able to ship more rolls to the United States, Penfield says.

He says retailers also have brought Mexican-made hand sanitizer to the United States when there was a shortage.

Americans, of course, buy products that are made all over the world, but most of the toilet paper they use is made in this country.

Toilet paper is inexpensive and takes up a lot of space in trucks and ships, making it not worth the cost of importing from other countries. Which helped spur the shortage.

Some shoppers are doing a double take when they see the unfamiliar stuff. Oliver Olsen wasn’t even in the market for toilet paper but said he had to stop and take a closer look at what he saw at a Hannaford supermarket in Londonderry, Vermont.

Instead of Charmin and Cottonelle, there were Vogue and Delsey from Mexico. Next to them were rolls of Cashmere from Canada and King Blue from Trinidad and Tobago.

Vogue, a Mexican toilet paper brand, on the shelf at a 7-Eleven.
Vogue, a Mexican toilet paper brand, on the shelf at a 7-Eleven.
AP

“It really just jumped out at me,” said Olsen, who works in the software industry and is a former state representative. “I didn’t know any of these.”

Ericka Dodge, a spokeswoman for Hannaford, a chain owned by supermarket operator Ahold Delhaize, said the grocer worked with new suppliers to get toilet paper on the shelf faster.

Some U.S. manufacturers also stopped making the many varieties of toilet paper they usually make, like sheets that are stronger or infused with aloe, focusing instead on the basics to get it to stores quicker.

Dodge said those varieties are starting to return to store shelves.

Penfield expects American manufacturers to struggle to keep up with demand for the next three to five months. Part of the reason: People are doing more of their bathroom business at home instead of at work or school. Bathroom tissue sales are up 22% so far this year, according to Nielsen, the consumer research giant.

The companies that make the Mexican toilet paper were surprised their rolls were spotted north of the border.

“It’s unexpected that it would be found in any U.S. retailers,” said Amy Bellcourt, a spokeswoman for Essity, a Swiss tissue company that makes Regio in Mexico.

Petalo, Vogue and Delsey are made in Mexico by Kimberly-Clark, the same company that makes Cottonelle and Scott. But Kimberly-Clark said it had no role in importing its Mexican brands to the United States.

Selling unknown toilet paper brands in a pandemic isn’t hard, even though they’re not as fluffy as Charmin or Cottonelle.

“American consumers, in times of plenty, are very picky,” said Erika Marsillac, an associate professor of supply chain management at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. “If the shelves are running low or empty, you’ll grab whatever you can grab.”

Some people don’t have a choice.

Jennifer Jackson ordered aloe-infused Cottonelle from the website of Texas supermarket chain H-E-B, but it was out of stock, and she realized it was swapped out for Vogue when she picked up her order at the store. She thought the flowery scent was “kind of fun,” but it was missing some heft.

“Vogue is so thin, it kind of falls apart,” said Jackson, a lawyer in Austin, Texas. “And that’s a dicey situation in the bathroom.”