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More messaging around period products is needed to remind customers that stock is not an ‘unlimited resource’ 

There has been a lot of attention drawn to the extreme panic buying going on throughout the country over the past few weeks as a result of anxiety surrounding Covid-19.

The most talked-about products that are being snatched up within minutes of being restocked are toilet paper and pasta. One product category that has received significantly less attention, however, is feminine hygiene products, of which we are now seeing significant shortages across the UK.

Many are now opening their eyes to the negative impact of panic buying in times like these, and social media has been quick to call out those that are buying selfishly – taking much more than they need and leaving none for the elderly and vulnerable, who face the longest and most intense period of social distancing of all. Supermarkets have responded to public demand by announcing that they are reserving the first hour of opening for elderly and vulnerable customers.

These measures are gladly accepted and will help ensure that people in need will not go without. However, the problem some are facing accessing sanitary products has not been addressed as directly, and many women are struggling as products like tampons and sanitary towels continue to disappear from shelves. At Shepper, we recently completed research across the leading supermarkets in the UK, collecting data on what products were low or out of stock.

This led to a new insight into the very low stock levels of feminine care products. Although far less documented in the media, this problem is arguably just as worrying as the other shortages in stores. Many women in the UK are now finding that they are without access to a basic human necessity. What’s more, the government is placing a huge emphasis on hygiene to help stop the spread of the virus. How are women and girls able to maintain proper period hygiene if there are no resources available?

Sanitary product accessibility has been making headlines in the past few weeks, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirming that the tampon tax would be scrapped from January next year. This move will make products more affordable and accessible, shifting the view that sanitary products are a ‘luxury, non-essential item’. Plan International’s research found that, in the UK alone, one in 10 girls between the ages of 14 and 21 have been unable to afford sanitary products, while 49% have missed an entire day of school because of their period.

However, the coronavirus hitting the UK has unfortunately meant a step back in terms of period product accessibility, with many low-income women struggling to afford, let alone stockpile, period products. Many of us who do not fit into the low income bracket are slowly realising the reality of period poverty, as we are now discovering what it is like to not have access to basic human resources.

So how can we tackle the problem? Supermarkets are trying to prevent stockpiling with increased signage, dedicated shopping times for elderly and vulnerable people and rules around how many products people can buy. At this stage, more messaging and regulations around period products would be beneficial, helping to remind customers that stock is not an ‘unlimited resource’ as it once seemed to be.

As customers ourselves, we all need to be far more mindful of others. We are dealing with this health crisis together, as a country and as a planet. So please, buy only what you need and try helping others when you can.