The world’s tissue industry is bracing itself for further substantial production increases following the world-wide outbreak of Covid-19.

Mills globally are mobilising to meet the sudden surge in demand – it may not yet have peaked – but a fall-off will follow, and even during the present surge, the AfH sector is especially hard hit as many nations shutdown social activity as restaurants, bars, flights and hotels temporary close down to adjust and safeguard citizens.

To take just one example of the increased demand, Essity has said its Salford, UK-based tissue facility sold 63m toilet rolls in the first two weeks of March – compared to 24m the same time a year earlier.

It emphasised the resilience of its supply chain and urged consumers not to panic-buy and be community-minded.

A spokesman told TWM: “We have seen increased demand globally for our consumer products, that is toilet paper, household towels, baby diapers, feminine care, and incontinence care products. We don’t have any issues meeting these demands.

“Already in January we saw an expected increase in demand and the risk of production disturbances and started to take measures. At the moment we have no major disruptions in production, for any of our products, due to the Coronavirus. In China, where we operate through our subsidiary Vinda, all production is up and running, also in Hubei Province.”

It follows news around the world of consumers’ panic-buying toilet tissue, with retailers across Europe and North America unable to keep shelves stocked of consumer tissue products.

A spokesman for Kimberly-Clark (K-C) told TWM that it wants to assure consumers it is “doing our best to ensure a steady supply of product to stores”.

It said: “K-C is working closely with our retail partners and customers to understand their current needs.

“We have plans in place to address the increased demand for our products to the extent possible, including accelerated production and reallocating inventory to help meet these needs. We will continue to make adjustments to our plans as necessary.

“In addition, the health and safety of our people is our top priority, and K-C has taken extra steps to keep our people and their families safe and healthy.

“These measures include enhanced safety measures for our office, mill and distribution centre operations, which were developed in line with guidance from global health authorities. These plans also help ensure the continued supply of our essential products.”

Dino Bianco, chief executive, Kruger Products, told TWM: “In my 30 years in the grocery and CPG industries, I have witnessed how strong and resilient these industries are, and how committed they are to making sure people have the essentials.

“While this is a unique situation, these industries are pulling through and have the supply to keep food and products moving.

“We are in this together. As a company, we are doing everything we can to make everyday life more comfortable for our customers and consumers.

“During this uncertain time, we are relying on our core values to make decisions. We are focused on doing the right thing for our employees, customers, communities and business.”

Clearwater Paper Corporation also emphasised that the health and safety of its employees were a top priority and that it was closely monitoring the rapidly evolving Covid-19 situation.

It said it was also experiencing “a significant increase” in demand for its retail tissue products and an increase in demand for paperboard used for packaging food and pharmaceutical products: “The company is focused on ensuring continuous operations to serve its customers’ demand for these essential goods. Clearwater Paper’s facilities are currently producing as usual.”

Armindo Marque, partner and technical director UK-based Poppies Europe, said: “Business wise, we are now bracing for impact. Although toilet tissue madness has artificially boosted our sales for the time being. But we are now taking the necessary measure to adjust and see it through.”

Oday Abbosh, founder and chief executive of the UK’s Better All Round and owner of Consuma Paper Products, told TWM: “It is frantic. In reality, everyone has been taken aback by the speed with which it has accelerated worldwide.

“Panic buying has put immense pressure on the supply chain and we will have to see what the ramifications will be in relation to weakening currencies.

“However, there have also been huge positives. The way retailers, our industry and our employees have all stepped-up is fantastic and brings immense pride.

“Looking after our people and serving our customers remains our priority and we are doing everything we can to look after everyone. We are also grateful to our brilliant suppliers who have also stepped up big time to ensure continuity of supply.

“Given these unprecedented times and our propensity for thinking outside the box at Consuma, we’ve taken the step of opening up our supply chain expertise and resource to help businesses who might, in other times, be considered competitors. We’ve done this in order to help the industry as a whole meet the extraordinary levels of demand faced by retailers.

“To this end we’ve facilitated a selection of competitors – including those whose supply included AfH destinations – to quickly pivot sales to some of our key retail partners.”

For a more in-depth report on how the tissue industry is responding to Covid-19, see the May/June issue of Tissue World magazine.