“Panic” buying

This is one of a series of personal blogs I’ve written about coronavirus.
They are not a pieces of journalism, and are not like the investigative work I do for major publishers.
They are my personal reflections, in attempt to make sense of the situation.

Visiting the supermarket has become a bleak, tense experiment in herd behaviour. It’s intriguing what people choose to buy when they’re worried.

In our local Sainsbury’s, Pringles are sold out. Plenty of Quavers though. I guess if you’re in an Apocalyptic mood, you want a premium snack.

Pictures of empty shelves and folks with overloaded trolleys led to inevitable headlines about “panic buying”.

Clearly there are examples of obscene over-purchasing. But a lot of the reason for the empty shelves isn’t panicking at all, it’s people responding to government advice.

If you’re told you may need to stay indoors (and everyone else in your household too) for 14 days, then logic dictates you’re going to need to do your normal shop, plus another fortnight’s worth, and then maybe another week to be safe.

So very quickly you see a simultaneous drive by many people to do a month’s shopping as soon as possible. They’re simply preparing for what the government told them might happen.

If you’re looking at making sandwiches for lunch and maybe toast in the morning, for a family of four that’s about 20 slices of bread. For two weeks, that’s 280 slices. There are around 24 slices in a loaf, so that means 11 loaves. Which somewhat puts the overloaded trolleys into perspective.

Problem is, none of that helps those who (like me) go to the supermarket and are confronted with the overwhelming, guilt- and fear-inducing feeling that you’re too late and that everyone else got there first. Worrying about not having enough food, especially when you’re in a country like the UK and you have money in the bank, is a deeply unsettling feeling.

Arguably, the government could have worked better with supermarkets prior to making the announcement, although it’s not clear how much supermarkets could have done to be better prepared.

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