One significant and surprising aspect of the virus’s impact that’s often been overshadowed by the daily case and death counts was the roller-coaster-like panic of buying of groceries and other essential food-related items.
Unlike a natural disaster that usually moves in and out of a specific area relatively quickly, this pandemic spurred, and continues to cause, a buying spree unlike anything seen in modern times. The phases of purchasing food, water and other non-food items were distinct and were the direct effect of what was transpiring on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis.
I’ve seen this type of buying firsthand in my role as a member of grocery store management. I’ve been on the “front lines” from the start.
To give you some insight into these events from my perspective, I’ll examine those phases and look at what’s occurred and what’s presently in effect. No one knows what the future will look like ... especially if the oft-mentioned “second wave” of cases becomes a reality.
WATCHING THE NEWS
All was normal in the United States as reports of a spreading illness in China seeped into our local news. Stories about a highly contagious virus of unknown origin hitting the huge Chinese city of Wuhan caused talk among people at work, but the virus was nothing that would be called a concern or reason to worry.
However, as the virus spread beyond the area and into a variety of countries, Americans began to take notice a bit more closely. News and social media coverage of Wuhan being locked down—with residents having virtually no access to anything outside their apartments—also played on the psyche of people in the States.
When news reports announced that cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus were showing up here, the rush of panic buying began. Fearing that they, like the people of Wuhan (and, at that time, elsewhere), would be unable to leave their homes for days, weeks and possibly months, everything not nailed down to the grocery shelves was in their sights.
POWER BUYING FOR LOCKDOWN
The idea of being locked down at home quickly grew into a very real probability. As a result, people hit the grocery stores in droves.
At my location—and, I’d assume at most retail supermarkets, both large and small—power buying became the order of the day. People had to calculate food needs for their entire family—with no idea when they’d be able to get back to the stores. Spring break was underway at that time, and children were out of school, further adding to breakfast and lunch food needs on the home front.
People shopped as if a major hurricane had been predicted. Fresh meats and poultry, dry grocery goods (including snacks, cookies and sweet treats), were vacuumed up for the kids. Soups, crackers and breads of all types were included in this frenzy—along with just about everything else.
Unlike a disaster, during which power outages might reduce frozen and refrigerator-stored food purchases, this COVID-19 buying binge had no such restrictions. Frozen-food cases were decimated. From frozen pizza and “TV dinners” to French fries and ice cream, the shelves in the frozen food department were emptied quickly and abruptly.
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