Tampon shortage latest sign of supply chain woes in US stores

NEW YORK, United States (AFP)— Tampons are the latest product disappearing from store shelves in the United States, another illustration of supply chain problems that are complicating daily life, following the troubling shortage of baby formula.

Drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens confirmed in messages to AFP that some brands of tampons are temporarily unavailable in some areas.

Procter & Gamble, which makes the ubiquitous Tampax line among other products, said customers might not be able to find their usual brand in American stores.

“We understand it is frustrating for consumers when they can’t find what they need. We can assure you this is a temporary situation in the US, and the Tampax team is producing tampons 24/7 to meet the increased demand for our products,” they said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Edgewell, maker of Playtex and o.b. tampons and Carefree and Stayfree liners and pads, acknowledged inventory issues due to “extensive workforce shortages” caused by two COVID-19 outbreaks at a US plant in late 2021 and a Canadian supplier early this year.

The company said they “anticipate returning to normal levels in the coming weeks.”

Kimberly-Clark, which makes a variety of consumer products including Kotex tampons, told AFP it has not experienced inventory shortages.

Walgreens meanwhile said it was working with suppliers to “ensure we have supply available” in all its stores.

And CVS said that “if a local store is temporarily out of specific products, we work to replenish those items as quickly as possible.”

The situation has been going on for months, but has received increasing media attention in recent days.

– Like pandemic stockpiling –

Patrick Penfield, a supply chain management specialist at Syracuse University, says demand has increased recently in particular because of additional purchases by consumers who see the shortage of certain brands and panic that they won’t be able to get more product.

He compared it to people stockpiling toilet paper at the start of the pandemic.

There is also a shortage of certain raw materials, including cotton and plastic, he said.

“This is the third straight year where demand for cotton in the US has exceeded what US firms are producing,” Penfield said, pointing to the increased need for masks and personal protection equipment.

In addition, some factories are struggling to operate at full capacity due to staff shortages or COVID-19 spikes, he said.

But the situation is different from the baby formula shortage: Initially caused by supply chain snarls and labor shortages, formula supplies dropped sharply when manufacturer Abbott shut down one Michigan plant in February and issued a product recall after the death of two babies raised concerns over contamination.

When it comes to tampons, “the factories are operating,” Penfield said, predicting a return to normal within the next six months.

In the meantime, the shortage has offered Republicans a new angle of attack against US President Joe Biden, with the Republican National Committee slamming “Biden’s war on women” on Twitter.

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