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Across the US: Tampons Are in Short Supply and Getting Harder to Find

The shortage comes on the heels of an acute lack of baby formula
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights' related issues, politics, tech and society.
Published: June 16, 2022
Empty shelves are seen at a Target retail store in Contra Costa County, San Ramon, California as residents purchase all available stock of toilet paper, paper towels, canned goods, hand sanitizer and other essential items during the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12, 2020. (Image: by Smith Collection/Gado via Getty Images)

A shortage of feminine hygiene products has put a strain on consumers across America as a growing number of women say they either cannot find tampons on store shelves, or are having an increasingly harder time finding them. 

The shortage stems from a combination of factory staffing challenges, transportation/logistical roadblocks, and the rising costs of key raw materials needed to make the products, tampon makers say.

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NPR News reported that pharmacies such as CVS, Target and Walgreens were aware of the limited supply of tampons at some stores, and are actively working towards finding alternative solutions to remedy the problem. A spokesperson for CVS said that suppliers “haven’t been able to fulfill the full orders” for feminine-care products in recent weeks and asked for patience while the company found other factories to replenish store inventory as soon as possible.

Walgreens said its shortages “may only be in specific brands while we navigate the supply disruption,” but that its website will keep consumers updated with the latest store-level inventory in their local Walgreens. The pharmacy store chain giant also told The Washington Post that it was experiencing “some temporary brand-specific shortages in certain geographies.”

Meanwhile, Procter & Gamble (P&G), the maker of Tampax, said it is working with retail partners to maximize the availability of all feminine-care products, which they claim “has significantly increased over the last several months.” Tampax representatives also added that “the problem is temporary” and that their team was “working 24/7 in producing more tampons to meet the increased demand.”

Not all brands have experienced the same shortage issue, it appears. Kimberly-Clark, the Texas-based consumer goods giant and maker of U-by-Kotex tampons said in a statement that it “has not experienced a product or supply shortage” in its U.S. market, and that it was “working closely with our retail partners to keep shelves stocked.”

Rippling effects 

Economists have pointed out that the same forces plaguing the global economy — from soaring raw material and fuel costs, to labor shortages and disrupted supply chains — have resulted in a rippling effect. 

According to a report by Bloomberg, the average price for tampons has gone up by nearly 10 percent in the past year. Citing NielsenIQ data, the consulting firm said that the raw materials used to make tampons — which include cotton, rayon, fluff pulp, and plastic — have been in high demand for use in masks and other medical products used during the pandemic, resulting in a rise of supply chain and logistical costs across the board. 

Extreme droughts in Texas and parts of the Southwest, coupled with rising diesel prices and the effects of the Russia-Ukraine war have also tightened the supply of those goods, the report added. 

Tampons have also been getting more expensive due to inflation. A year after announcing increased prices on feminine care products, P&G revealed in an April earnings call that “ongoing supply chain constraints would lead to another price hike on the products,” which will go into effect in mid-July.

Double shortage

“I just went to 5 different Walgreens [and] the shelves are CLEARED,” one Twitter user said this past week, while another wrote, “A TAMPON SHORTAGE??? Do y’all just hate women??? I’m about to give birth soon and there’s no formula AND no tampons?? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO??”

Many consumers noted on Reddit that empty shelves are now becoming a standard fixture in grocery stores and pharmacies across the country. 

The tampon shortage also comes at a time when a baby formula crisis has swept through the nation, which some have termed the “Biden baby formula shortage.” Parents across the U.S. are still scrambling to find baby formula after a national product recall resulted in empty shelves, soaring prices, and a limit of scarce product sales. 

The immediate reason for the shortage came when Abbott, the nation’s biggest infant formula maker, recalled several of its products earlier this year and halted production at its Michigan plant for over three months after reports of bacteria and toxic yeast were found at the site. Four babies who consumed the tainted formula produced at the facility came down sick with infections, and two of those infants have since died. 

According to a May report from Sedgwick Claims Management Services, product recalls in the U.S. have hit a 10-year high — with more than 900 million units of inventory recalled in the first quarter of 2022. 

Last month, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the baby formula shortage was something the Biden administration was aware of, and that a team was working around the clock to find “effective and permanent solutions” to the problem. 

“This is something [President Biden] is focusing on very acutely and again I said 24/7 we’ve been working on this since we learned about this back in February,” Jean-Pierre said during a daily briefing on May 16.