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Petalo, not Charmin: Virus brings Mexican toilet paper to US

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Posted at 11:04 AM, Sep 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-15 12:04:51-04

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

Demand for toilet paper has been so high during the pandemic that in order to keep their shelves stocked, retailers are buying up foreign toilet paper brands, mostly from Mexico. Major chains, across the country, including CVS, Piggly Wiggly, Safeway, 7-Eleven and others, are carrying the international brands.

In recent weeks, a CVS in New York has been selling three Mexican brands: Regio, Hoteles Elite and Daisy Soft. Mexico’s Petalo was on the shelves of a Piggly Wiggly in Sister Bay, Wisconsin. And a Safeway supermarket in Fremont, California, had those same brands, plus Vogue, whose label says in Spanish that it smells like chamomile.

The stores said 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 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, of course, buy products that are made all over the world, but most of the toilet paper they use is made in the U.S. 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. That’s left the toilet paper aisle with the same familiar brands, causing some shoppers to do a double take when they see the unfamiliar stuff.

Penfield, the Syracuse University professor, expects American manufacturers to struggle to keep up with demand for the next three to five months.

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 U.S.

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.”