Toilet paper shortages? Seriously?
I was stunned when I read news of how this bathroom essential was flying off shelves — and leaving them bare — around the world, all due to fears about the coronavirus.
I found it rather bizarre because here in China, we never saw toilet paper selling out in our supermarket. And apparently I’m not the only one puzzled, since news articles have surfaced on this subject, such as Why are people stockpiling toilet paper?
Still, the coronavirus has led to some unusual pressure on supplies that I never had to virtually elbow my fellow shoppers over.
Witness, for example, how in the past couple of weeks my favorite brand of bread flour, Xinliang, the best-seller in the online supermarket, has consistently been out of stock. I’ve been purchasing it for over a year and this is the first time this has happened.
And we’re not talking about just one type of Xinliang bread flour. Every single darned variety — white flour for bread, whole wheat flour, cake flour — in every single size — from 5 kilograms right down to 500 grams — is unavailable.
The online flagship store for Xinliang on Alibaba’s Tmall provided even less reassurance. While they were selling all my must-have varieties of bread flour, they came with a rather painful asterisk — that the store could ship them out as late as early April. Early April!
Now, granted, the online supermarket has other brands of bread flour on sale — but I’m stubborn. I really, really like Xinliang, right down to the adorable English words “Pure bread flour” printed on the front of its white bread flour packages.
Why has Xinliang been selling like hot jiaozi dumplings? Well, some recent coronavirus-inspired trends might offer some clues.
Last month, I wrote about how spending more time at home inspired me to get more creative in the kitchen, as I prepared more foods from scratch — including home-baked bread (thank you, bread machine!) — and expanded my repertoire, even creating my own homemade hummus.
The problem? Everyone else was steaming up their own kitchen cooking for themselves — and lots of them wanted bread too, by the looks of news reports. Consider this detail in the article Sales of cooking goods soar on online platforms (emphasis mine):
Sales of yeast, a necessity for making bread and pastries, soared by nearly 40 times while dumpling wrappers were sold seven times more than before. Seasonings were a hot item, with over 3.93 million onions, pieces of ginger and heads of garlic sold.
Data from Tmall International also showed that a UK multifunctional boiler, a Japanese sandwich maker as well as bread makers saw their sales soar 400 percent in its platform during the past one month.
So if more shoppers have been snapping up yeast and bread makers, then it’s no wonder my precious Xinliang bread flour has been missing in action in the online supermarket.
I keep waiting and hoping for it to reappear on the virtual shelves, checking every single week for signs of its re-emergence. But so far, no luck.
Meanwhile, I’ve observed shoppers moving on to a new brand of bread flour, touting how everyone in those Tik-Tok cooking videos uses it and posting their photos of bread hot out of the machine. It offered some reassurance, at least, that shifting to a new brand wouldn’t somehow lead to lackluster loaves.
But since I still have at least 3 kilograms of Xinliang bread flour left over — and a perhaps somewhat irrational attachment to the brand — I’m willing to wait a little longer.
However, if you’re one of the poor souls facing toilet paper shortages, waiting a little longer, depending on how many rolls you have left, might literally bite you in the bum.
Have you been seeing any unusual shortages in your area because of the coronavirus? Sound off in the comments.
P.S.: If this post inspired you to bake some more bread, consider heading over to When West Dates East for a delectable recipe for Shaker bread. And please, do your other fellow bakers a favor and leave some bread flour for the next person!