TPapocalypse: The great Taiwan toilet paper panic of 2018

Panic buying of toilet paper broke out across Taiwan as word spread of steep price rises set to start in mid-March

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Sign above empty shelves reads "Toilet Paper."

Sign above empty shelves reads "Toilet Paper." (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Panic buying of toilet paper broke out over the weekend in Taiwan as word spread of a steep hike in the price of the toilet tissue due to a drastic rise in global pulp prices.

Due to production disruptions in Brazil and forest fires in Canada, the global cost of short fiber pulp, which is used to produce toilet paper, has risen from US$650 per ton on average to US$800 as of February, according to the the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA). One of the largest suppliers of toilet paper in Taiwan, YFY Inc., said that the rise in the price of pulp has caused costs to increase by more that 50 percent since mid-2017, and is continuing to climb, along with the cost of transportation and packaging, according to a CNA report.

Toilet paper suppliers have informed Taiwan's retailers that prices of the product will go up by 10 to 30 percent, likely starting in mid-March. This means that consumers are likely to see the cost of a 12 pack of inter-fold toilet paper to rise from NT$200 (US$6.84) to NT$260 (US$8.89), reported CNA.

After toilet paper brands announced the price hike on Friday (Feb. 23), word quickly spread to consumers and panic buying soon set in across Taiwan, with many shops reporting empty shelves by Sunday.

The hysteria has spread to the web, with online retailer ETMall announcing that toilet paper products took up six out of the top 20 hottest selling items from Feb. 23 - Feb. 25, with sales of toilet tissues increasing by ten times over the weekend and many brands selling out completely, reported CNA.


Man hastily snapping up toilet paper at start of panic on Friday (Feb. 23). (CNA image)


What toilet paper shelves looked like by Sunday (Feb. 25). (CNA image)

On Friday (Feb. 23), the Executive Yuan said the Cabinet's price stabilization task force has requested the Fair Trade Commission (FTC), the MOEA and the Consumer Protection Committee to investigate the announcement of the price hike by toilet paper brands.

Wu Cheng-hsueh (吳政學), deputy director-general of Taiwan's Department of Consumer Protection, told the press on Sunday (Feb. 25) that the country's four major retailers promised that toilet paper prices will not rise until mid-March and urged the public not to engage in panic buying, reported UDN.

Wu urged the public not to panic as he said retailers would not take advantage of the situation to hike prices, hoard toilet paper or empty the shelves. Wu said that department officials would conduct spot checks in stores and conduct regular monitoring to make sure the price hike of toilet paper does not lead to price rises in other products.

In a phone interview with UDN, Wu said that Carrefour, RT-Mart. A.mart, and PX Mart had all pledged to keep the price of toilet paper the same and not increase it at least until mid-March. Wu said that if retailers are found to be colluding together to raise prices, they could be fined up to NT$50 million.

A male shopper surnamed Li (李) told Liberty Times that he was shocked to find the toilet paper shelves at the PX Mart in Taipei's Banqiao District completely bare yesterday (Feb. 25). Meanwhile, a female consumer surnamed Chen (陳) told the newspaper that all the stores she went to were out of toilet paper, and she said that it was not a fear of a price hike, but rather a fear of running out of the toilet tissues that stoked the panic buying.

John Purkis, a British elementary school teacher living in Taipei, saw the mad rush for toilet paper first hand: "I was at Carrefour in Taoyuan on Saturday night at 10 p.m. and every single person was checking out with their carts stacked 6 feet high with tissue paper."