Taiwan toilet paper panic: why is island caught short?

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Toilet paper manufacturers have warned prices could rise by 10-30%

Taiwan retailers have seen a rush on toilet paper over the weekend, as word spread of an imminent sharp price rise.

Shoppers used social media to post pictures of empty shelves where the product would usually be.

Manufacturers have written to retailers warning that prices are set to rise by 10% to 30% next month, as extra costs are passed on to customers.

But some shoppers said they bulk-bought because of fears the product would run out, rather than over price worries.

Are shoppers getting a bum deal?

Toilet paper getting more expensive is a direct result of rising raw material costs globally, according to Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Forest fires in Canada and disruption to production in Brazil are among the factors being blamed.

And as a result, the price of short fibre pulp, used to make toilet paper, now costs about $800 (£600) per tonne, compared with $650 a year ago, it said.

But one of Taiwan's largest toilet paper suppliers, YFY, says the situation is more drastic than that. It claims pulp costs have increased even faster than government estimates, soaring by about 50% since the middle of last year. Packing and transportation costs are also rising, it added.

While you would expect a price rise in raw materials to result in higher toilet paper prices globally, there have so far been few reports of such a trend.

In fact in the US it is expected that competition among the big players in common household goods - including loo roll - will push prices down for consumers.

Image source, AFP

Have supplies been wiped out?

Not quite, but many shops reported that shelves were empty by Sunday.

And the island's largest home shopping channel, ET Mall, said that of its 20 top-selling items, six were toilet paper - and demand was 10 times higher than usual.

But shoppers were told not to panic, with the Department of Consumer Protection saying supermarkets would be able to restock their shelves.

Have authorities been caught short?

Taiwan's government seems to have been quick to act.

It has ordered an investigation into the price hike, and The Department of Consumer Protection said it had received assurances from the country's four major retailers - Carrefour, RT-Mart, A.mart and PX Mart - that prices would not rise until mid-March.

Any collusion to increase prices before then would lead to them being fined, the department told media organisation UDN.

Meanwhile the big retail chains also promised not to stockpile supplies in order to sell later at higher prices.