Posts Tagged ‘Hoarding’

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Is Britain really panic buying and hoarding?

March 22, 2020

Undoubtedly, as the Coronavirus pandemic bites, some people are panic buying and hoarding. And some are bulk buying with the intention of selling goods on at a profit.

But I suspect the shortages in supermarkets are mostly down to something else.

Over the past 15 years, with the increase in the numbers of supermarkets, the growth in cooked-chilled and convenience foods, and the rise of Just Eat and Deliveroo, most people in the UK have been buying tonight’s meal that day, or ordering in. There’s evidence for this. In 2015 Waitrose published a study, reported in the Guardian, that identified exactly this trend.

Over time the supermarkets have adjusted their supply chains to replenish this little-and-often shopping style. Then suddenly we’re all faced with the possibility of being stuck at home for first seven, then 14 days and today, according to the Sunday Times (£) some of us will be told to stay at home for 12 weeks for our own good. Just imagine what happens when we all start to buy seven or fourteen times what we normally buy each day. Plus while take aways are still available, all those people who would eat in pubs and restaurants now can’t. So they’ve also gone food shopping.

I’m old enough to remember the “weekly shop” when we used to go to the supermarket on the way home on a Friday night and buy enough to make meals and have other products for the entire week. But for most families this is a thing of the past.

As a result the demand on the supermarkets’ supply chains has suddenly and massively increased.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said there was “plenty of food” in the supply chain and that the industry was experiencing “a peak in demand “like Christmas . . . without the four-month build-up period”.

Sunday Times, March 22nd 2020

Then the mass media, and social media, haven’t been shy about publishing photos of empty shelves, encouraging those of us sanguine enough to buy what we need for a few days, to rush out and buy more, just in case it’s not available when we need it. They need to publish more of these:

Well stocked shelves in a British supermarket

Well stocked shelves in a British supermarket

I’m sure it’ll return to normal, eventually. When either we’ve run out of room at home to store food, or we run out of spare cash or hit the limit on our credit cards. Helen Dickinson (quoted above) estimates there’s £1Bn more food in our homes than there was three weeks ago. Surely we can’t store much more without it going off and being thrown away?

And the cost of food will rise, not only because wholesalers sense an opportunity, and because of shortage, but because the BOGOF* and multi-buy offers normally offered by the supermarkets will be stopped for the time being.

I also suspect (but I have no evidence) that given the logistical constraints on distribution, priority is being given to food products in preference to non-food items such as washing powder. So those items will run short too due to both stocking up and reduced distribution. I’ll leave the last word to former Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King:

“Britain’s food supply chain is under short-term stress, not structural stress,” he said, “Probably 50% of customers are buying twice their usual shop and supermarkets can’t cope with that.”

I hope it all settles down soon, but in the meantime I’ve bought some vegetable seeds which I’ll be planting out over the next few days – well I have lots of time and I’m not supposed to go out unless it’s vital…

*Buy One Get One Free