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Consequences of “Panic-Buying”

Panic buying is a common human response to crisis, which is not caused by food shortage per se, but rather by fear.
Empty shelves in a supermarket
© University of Reading

Panic buying is a common human response to crisis, which is not caused by food shortage per se, but rather by fear. The fear of scarcity is self-fulfilling, because the more people stockpile, the more others are infected by the panic and therefore the faster the food runs out.

The human relationship with food is hardly rational and as the Harvard epidemiologist Karestan Koenen says:

Food buying helps us feel in control

It is estimated that consumer stockpiling has resulted in £1 billion more food in people’s houses in the UK over a 3 week period. Consumer stockpiling means that there is not enough left for others and also if the stockpiled food is not eaten, then it will convert in considerable amounts of food waste.

Consumers worry that food supply is running low, but food is available and it is being diverted from other food supply chains. For example, restaurants and bars are now closed, therefore they are not taking in food supplies. To divert the food supply from one chain to another logistics are needed, such as vehicles, drivers, warehouses and storage.

For the last 50 years or so, high income families did not worry too much about food waste as they did not experience food shortages like the wartime generation. The rich societies of today have become accustomed to the freedom and abundance when it comes to food, being able to eat what they want and when they want. For example, many do not keep track of seasonality, because fresh blueberries can be shipped in regardless of the month. The situation that resulted from the Covid-19 has changed the assumptions we are used making about food.

On the other hand, the less well-off part of the UK population, has become more vulnerable, due to a combination of self-isolation, scattered food availability and drops in income. This has resulted in a surge of food bank visitors.

Appropriate networks and volunteers, however, will be needed to reach individual food banks and to compensate for the drop of individual donations to food banks experienced in the last few weeks.

What we would like you to d do

Please reflect on the article and share your thoughts in the comments section below:

  • How has the pandemic changed your shopping habits?
© University of Reading
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Understanding Food Supply Chains in a Time of Crisis

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