An Entirely Qualitative Assessment of Four Key Pandemic Consumer Goods Based on Weekly Target Runs and Predicting the Future for Said Goods

Since COVID-19 shutdowns began in mid-March, I’ve been making weekly runs to Target to pick up various goods. One of the things I’ve also been tracking is the availability of and selection of four pandemic related products: hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, masks, and toilet paper. All four share the characteristic of experience demand spikes due to COVID-19, but aside from this similarity, they are incredibly different markets/industries.

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The goods :)

Demand Analysis

First, let’s approximate the unconstrained demand for these four products starting from the beginning of 2020 to 2023 on a quarterly basis.

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Units baselined on 100 in hand sanitizer, a qualitative chart for trend illustration purposes only. Quarterly data points used to approximate peaks and valleys in demand. Assumes broadscale vaccine distribution in 2021 and pandemic ending in 2022.
  1. Masks surged initially and even had a later increase due to new government regulations. I don’t foresee the demand for masks being that elevated in the future once COVID goes away, even the best ones are not comfortable and disrupt your life way more than a quick hand sanitizing squeeze.
  2. Toilet paper spiked as households stocked up but will return to fairly normal levels of demand in the future. There may be more hoarding behavior to bump demand up slightly in the short-term, but you can only use so much toilet paper…
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Back of envelope calculation

Supply Analysis

Now let’s take a look at the supply side of the equation along with some of my observations at Target (+Costco for good measure) over the last four months.

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The hand sanitizer aisle at my local Target as of 8/10/2020
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The shelves at Target for disinfecting wipes on a lucky day… Credit: Montgomery Community Media
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Me with toilet paper at home ^_^
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For illustrative purposes only. A visual look at the supply situation for these products. Assumes that when supply is sufficient it’s 10% higher than demand.

Macro Framework

Now that we’ve established a baseline understanding of the supply and demand situations of these products we can turn to develop our understanding of #1 barriers to entry and #2 characteristics for each product category. This will ultimately inform the competitive implications for players (or players to be) in these spaces and can give some insight into what these categories will look like in the post-COVID world.

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The framework

Hand Sanitizer

Barriers to Entry

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My pandemic era hand sanitizer acquisitions and ratings. A huge gulf in quality observed.
  1. Drying/non-moisturizing. Makes a huge difference because you don’t want to have sticky or dry hands afterward.
  2. Actually toxic and recalled.
  1. Manufacturers who can make a good product at scale will win, whether it be a branded good or generic. There will be many more of these given increased demand and shelf space.
  2. Retailers will expand brand offerings in the short-term to test what sticks with consumers but will cut back as they begin to identify winners.
  3. Branding will be focused on product characteristics from both a feeling and a hygiene perspective.

Disinfecting Wipes

Barriers to Entry

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Clorox factory. Source: NBC News

Masks

Barriers to Entry

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Much hyped Uniqlo Airism Mask. Source: TechieLoBang

Toilet Paper

Barriers to Entry

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Toilet paper manufacturing in action. Source: BoingBoing

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this article and did not take it too seriously, I admit it lacks rigorous research and data but I think many of the conclusions will probably hold with additional evidence.

Retail, consumer goods, and technology aficionado. Fitness enthusiast. Proud Texas Longhorn and Columbia Biz MBA.

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