Stockpiling Depletes Supermarket Shelves in the U.S. as Shoppers Do the ‘Hamsterkauf’

A cashier at a Stop & Shop in New York City on Friday

By Paul Riegler on 14 March 2020
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Unless you are returning from an extended Martian holiday, you know that the coronavirus panic has not only spurred what could only be called “competitive” grocery shopping but has resulted in social media being filled with photos of long lines and empty store shelves.

The stockpiling craze that hit Asian supermarkets last month thanks to the spread of the coronavirus and European supermarkets earlier in the month has reached these shores. Consumers are hoarding groceries and personal hygiene products including hand sanitizer and toilet paper like never before.  Similar panic buying – the German word for such hoarding is the Hamsterkauf, or hamster buying, as it is akin to the manner in which the rodents stuff their cheeks with food – generally precedes blizzards and hurricanes but it typically has a finite end point.

At a Trader Joe’s store in Forest Hills, New York, long lines of shoppers waiting to enter the store ran the length of a full city block.

An empty dairy aisle at a Stop & Shop supermarket

An employee of a different Trader Joe’s location posted a note on Facebook, making clear the toll the hysteria is having on workers at such stores.

“As a retail employee at one of the busiest Trader Joe’s in the country, I have left my job in tears every night the past two weeks because we have been ambushed by thousands of scared shoppers,” he said.

An FBT reporter entering a Stop & Shop supermarket in New York City found sections such as dairy and pasta completely devoid of any products.  While most employees were dressed normally, several were seen wearing masks and one cashier was wearing a mask and a lab coat.

Another FBT reporter witnessed shoppers grabbing the last packages of virtually anything from almost completely empty shelves at a Kings Food Market in New Jersey.

Shoppers are bearing down because they fear lockdowns and because buying provisions under such difficult circumstances brings comfort and makes them feel as if they are gaining at least a modicum of control over the situation.  The irony of being on top of one another in a relatively small space when the term “socialdistancing” is trending on social media is apparently lost on them.

Shoppers are not only purchasing food, but places to store it. GE Appliances said last week that it had noticed an uptick in freezer sales in recent weeks.

In some cases, panic buying has caused real damage: The U.S. Surgeon General has pleaded with Americans to stop buying face masks to ensure that health care workers have them, and Amazon and eBay purged thousands of vendors from their ranks for price gouging. Meanwhile, in what some online are calling a just punishment, a Tennessee man who amassed a collection of over 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer and other personal hygiene supplies has been unable to sell his wares after his products were delisted from the Amazon marketplace.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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