Is plaster the new toilet roll?

Demand for building materials and DIY products in lockdown skyrocketed stretching UK supplies and risking supermarket style product restrictions.

Toilet roll, flour, and wall plaster? What do these items all have in common? All have seen a buying surge by the public that’s put huge pressure on manufacturers and suppliers to keep up with demand. At Adaptavate we’ve felt this through a real rise in enquiries about Breathaplasta.

The panic buying of toilet paper at the start of the coronavirus pandemic gave way to a rush on baking ingredients and a flour shortage during lockdown and now a DIY binge that’s stretching UK supplies of cement, plaster, fence panels, paint and power tools, all of which are in huge demand right now as DIY shops report a surge in sales up 250% on last year.

With more than 9 million Britons furloughed during the three months of lockdown, many have turned to much delayed DIY projects to fill their days and have diverted funds they’d otherwise have spent on foreign holidays, meals out, trips to the pub or luxury fashion into home improvements with DIY projects, ranging from mending fences to laying patios, skimming walls, painting and decorating all proving popular. I’m sure we’ve all seen the ‘What we haven’t got…’ signs outside our local B&Q or Homebase, all featuring plaster and plasterboard. It’s become a ‘hot commodity’!  

Last week Kingfisher, which owns the B&Q and Screwfix chains, both deemed essential businesses and allowed to remain open throughout the coronavirus lockdown, said they were hiring up to 2,000 temporary workers after online sales soared by more than 200% in April and May.

“I wouldn’t quite say plaster is the toilet roll of the building materials industry, but it’s probably not far off,” said John Newcomb, chief executive of the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF). “The availability issues are either in builders’ merchants or DIY stores and there has been a big shortage of plaster as well as issues around bagged cement – it’s the products purchased by consumers and tradesmen, so it’s those who buy smaller quantities who are worst affected.”

“We are also seeing excessive demand for external materials like fence posts and panels, exterior paint and garden sleepers,” said Newcomb. “There is this extreme demand from consumers and now, as tradesmen start to return to work, they’re adding to that.”

Plaster factories have not been able to keep up with the extra demand, even though some businesses are working overtime, drawing parallels with the flour shortage that occurred earlier this year created by the lockdown baking craze.

This is why we’ve been called on so much as people are looking to make the change from standard gypsum plaster to Breathaplasta which is not only better for our buildings and healthier, but is mixed and installed in a similar way to regular plaster making the transition from gypsum easy. A versatile product Breathaplasta gives multiple health benefits in terms of reducing problems with condensation and mould, absorbing pollutants and helping to save energy by improving insulation.

“I guess the best thing about it at the moment is that you can actually buy it!” said Tom, our founder. “We managed to get our manufacturing and supply chain up and running with safe social distancing protocols straight after lockdown – that is one of the benefits of being a smaller business, we can quickly react to changing situations around us and adapt much faster than bigger companies.”

Back in March supermarkets began rationing certain items amid the initial coronavirus panic and basic items such as toilet paper, pasta, wipes and soap were all restricted as consumers emptied shelves across the country. So, will we see something similar in the DIY world? It’s unlikely that we’ll see any of the same restrictions applied to building materials and DIY items as much of the initial panic around the coronavirus has settled down somewhat and as building materials are not considered essential items in the same way as groceries and other supermarket essentials. 

The work of housebuilders and major contractors has mostly avoided disruption, said Newcomb, who added that plaster supplies and other building materials were being prioritised for essential projects, particularly within the NHS. The most likely outcome is that product supply will continue to fall short of demand in the short-medium term and that we’ll see an increase in the use of new and different brands to the mainstream construction products until supply levels normalise towards the end of the summer, perhaps late August or early September 2020.

At Adaptavate, whilst the last 4 months have been incredibly challenging, we’ve been happy to support the more traditional merchants and contractors to help keep their projects on track by supporting them in making the switch from gypsum plaster to healthier, more ecological products such as our Breathaplasta. We’ll continue to help ease the pressure on the supply chain and work around the current constraints on the construction industry. As a small business, we hope that the customers we’ve gained through this challenging time will stick with us into the future and help catalyse the transition to healthier building products that are better for people, buildings and the planet. It has been such a shift in industry, society and ecological impact on our planet in the last 4 months and the time really is now to make the transition to a better way of living and working. Or in the government’s words ‘building back better’! We’d love to have you by our side – thanks for the support!

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