I live in the South. The mere mention of a winter weather threat induces an often irrational reaction. People flock to the stores to buy inordinate amounts of bread, milk, eggs, and other products. I often joke that French Toast is popular here during snow days. In reality, it is quite rare that an snow event in Georgia will cause people to be stranded for days in need of that much food. We are now entering our first winter within a Coronavirus pandemic, and two major holidays are approaching. How will this combination affect grocery store inventory, and why do people hoard anyhow?
I have been fascinated for years with the psychology behind why people stock up on food and supplies at the mention of snow in the South. It is true that we have more limited snow removal capacity here so there is a genuine fear of being “snowed in.” However, we also rarely see snow or ice events of that scale. Experts suggest that stockpiling food during a storm gives people a feeling of control even if the situation is uncontrollable. I guess that you could say that “stockpiling” is a coping mechanism. Expert clinical psychologist Steven Taylor told Discover.com’s Megan Schmidt that a similar phenomenon is happening with COVID-19. He said, “With panic-buying, people feel a strong sense of urgency and a fear of scarcity.” Like with weather stockpiling, they are trying to find ways of staying in control as big, bad words like virus and pandemic are used.
This brings me to the motivation for this article. I took a peek at the long-range weather models for Georgia. As a meteorologist, I recognized signals of potential winter weather in early December. However, I also know that long-range projections beyond 10-14 days are still quite iffy, particularly with Southern winter weather threats. My advice is to always watch the evolving forecast, do not “wishcast,” and beware of “social media-rologists” sharing bad information. The models did trigger a thought about the potential compound effect of coronavirus product shortages, holiday preparation and weather-motivated stockpiling.
While things have improved, my family still has trouble finding certain items at the grocery store. Media outlets are also reporting that people are panic buying again as the late fall COVID-19 surge has elevated case levels to their highest levels of the pandemic. Major stores are using purchase limits on high-demand items like cleaning and paper products. As it currently stands, suppliers feel that they are in a better position than earlier in the pandemic. Dairy, meat, vegetable, and other non-perishables remain strong. However, demand is spiking and many suppliers are still playing catch up because “consumers are still snapping up as much food as they can, pressuring companies across the industry,” writes Nic Querolo and Leslie Patton in Bloomberg.
I don’t think it is unreasonable to wonder how a impending winter weather and holiday demand will affect supply in coronavirus pandemic. We shall see.
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