Toilet tissue isn’t the only kind of paper that’s increasingly hard to find as the Delta variant has pushed some people to stock their shelves.
Businesses and consumers are being told to wait weeks or longer to get what they’ve ordered from printers — or to limit their use of copy machines — because there’s not enough of other kinds of paper, sources tell The Post. And as the holiday season approaches, book sellers fear a runaway best seller could be out of stock if there’s not enough paper to keep up with demand.
Like most commodities, paper became harder to purchase this summer with the rise of the Delta variant around the world, limiting labor at paper mills and shipping ports just when the economy was opening up again and demand was soaring.
But labor issues aren’t the only reason for the shrinking paper supply: The pandemic accelerated an existing decline in paper production as more manufacturers pivot to making higher-margin packaging materials, like cardboard boxes used in e-commerce, Argus Research analyst David Coleman told The Post.
International Paper Co. of Memphis, for example, recently divested most of its paper division, bought two box plants in Spain and took a controlling interest in a US-based corrugated packaging company.
“The long-term trend is using less paper,” Coleman said, while manufacturers are seizing on the demand for packaging materials, which has resulted in soaring pulp prices.
Paper, pulp and corrugated paper board prices jumped 18.1 percent in August compared to a year ago and 1.6 percent since July, according to the Bureau of Labor’s producer price index.
“We have seen higher price increases for a variety of products derived from lumber because of a shortage of logs,” that resulted when “logging operations cut back during the pandemic but demand for products made from lumber like plywood and furniture stayed strong,” BLS economist Scott Sager said.
Recycled fiber that’s used to make boxes and packaging has been in such high demand that the prices have soared to $159 per ton in July from $54 per ton a year ago, according to Derek Mahlberg, director of Fastmarkets RISI, which tracks forest products data.
Meanwhile, costs for pulp that go into making paper have soared to $605 per ton in July from $375 per ton a year ago, Mahlberg said.
Manufacturers have found it’s easier to pass along the higher cost of pulp to shipping companies, Coleman said, than to make less-profitable paper.
The result is a tighter supply — including toilet paper — with Procter & Gamble running its factories 24 hours a day, according to a Wall Street Journal report highlighting store shelves devoid of paper products, which sparked a storm of social media posts.
Even teachers are posting complaints that they have been told to limit their use of copy machines because of a lack of paper while brides are worried their invitations won’t go out on time.
And booksellers also are worried that an unexpected hit could catch them without enough supply, according to Barnes & Noble Chief Executive James Daunt.
“There are always surprise best-sellers and we are concerned that it will be difficult to meet unexpected demand for certain books,” he told The Post.
Smaller users of paper are concerned, too.
Gabriella Santaniello, who is planning her November wedding in Los Angeles, was about to send out her invitations in July when her printer, Shine Wedding Invitations, informed her that they couldn’t complete her order because they didn’t have envelopes. She waited a couple of weeks, checking in with the sales rep every day to find out when the pearl white envelopes she’d ordered would arrive. They never did.
The rep finally told her that Shine’s vendor couldn’t promise when they’d get that color in stock.
Santaniello reached out to another printer, Cards & Pockets, and had to compromise on her color scheme.
“I wanted the whole thing to be white, but I ended up getting green envelopes and ordering my place cards [for the reception seating] in advance without knowing who’s coming to the wedding because I was afraid they’d run out of those as well,” Santaniello told The Post.
Indeed wedding invitation paper — especially popular colors like pearl white — is harder to score, Becky Piscitelli, founder and co-owner of Cards & Pockets told The Post.
“Brides are asking us for things we just can’t get and they are not being fully understanding that this is a supply chain issue right now,” Piscitelli said.
“We’ve been hearing that ‘You can’t keep blaming this on the supply chain,’ but if we run out of something today, it could take a month to get it back in stock compared to the several days it took before the pandemic,” Piscitelli added.
Cards & Pockets of Massachusetts gets its paper from England and Italy and some colored papers can take up to three months to get, the printer said.
The price of the paper Cards & Pockets uses has not risen as dramatically as corrugated paper, purchasing manager, Bryan Dunigan said, pointing to a 2-cent increase, to 70 cents, his mills implemented in December for a basic, white sheet of paper 28 inches x 40 inches that produces about six envelopes.
“The availability of the product was the biggest headache by far,” he said. “Products we’d get in a week are now sometimes taking three months to arrive.”
Similarly, Avante Print Center of Arizona, which handles printing for small businesses like veterinary practices, music schools, construction businesses and funeral homes, warned its customers to place their orders weeks before they need the paper.
Owner Carl Denti, said his orders to his distributors started to get delayed in June and by August his main distributor told him it couldn’t promise him a date for when Avante would get paper.
“I was stunned,” Denti said. “I’ve never received such a response to a purchase order.”
Avante has been filling his customers’ orders in smaller increments of 50 or 100 pieces at a time rather than in the thousands, he said, making smaller quantities of everything so he can give his customers at least part of their order.
“I’ve never had to wait more than a day for a paper delivery,” Denti said.