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Grocery stores are preparing for a second wave of panic buying

Stock up now, store shelves are looking slim! The hoarders are in panic mode and buying everything.

The hoarding began slowly in spring as forward-thinking shoppers snapped up masks and hand sanitizer. But once Americans realized the pandemic was serious, they emptied stores of just about everything, from toilet paper to canned soup.

With an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases this fall, panic buying could return as worries of a second lockdown spread. Retailers say they’re already seeing the signs and are hopeful they’ll be ready.

Even when people aren’t panicking and picking the shelves clean, the way we eat and shop has changed significantly.

Adults and children are spending much more time at home, preparing their own meals. The average weekly grocery bill is now $190, up 17% from pre-pandemic levels. Grocery bills have jumped even though shoppers are taking fewer trips; they’re simply stuffing their carts on the few occasions when they venture out.

Other big spending increases could provide clues to some of the shortages we can expect to see this winter. Following paper products, the LendingTree survey found that fresh produce, frozen food and canned goods saw the biggest jump in demand when the pandemic hit.

Shoppers and retailers are reporting that certain items are already running low, including liquid hand soap, disinfecting wipes and canning jars (especially lids). Some products have been difficult to find ever since the first wave.

But a wintery second wave could trigger new shortages, as Americans spend even more time indoors.

A view of empty shelves at a department store during the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020.

Beyond grocery goods, you can expect to see shortages of:

  • Exercise equipment: When gyms closed, it wasn’t easy to pick up items like free weights — and that was when pleasant temperatures allowed people to get outside.
  • Outdoor gear: Speaking of getting outside, expect a run on gloves, hats and any items that allow people to exercise outdoors.
  • Home appliances: It’s a perfect storm: an increase in home reno projects, lack of supply from store closures, COVID-19 protocols at manufacturing facilities and the usual holiday shopping could combine to create shortages on appliances big and small.
lineup of shoppers at supermarket with grocery carts

The level of panic might not be the same this winter, but even a little hoarding will aggravate the already high consumer demand during the holiday season. Thankfully, stores are planning ahead.

Typically, stores make use of demand forecasting, triggering an order to the supplier at the last minute, just before the store stock is depleted but companies were caught off guard when customers began hoarding, and inventory levels were too low to match huge spikes in demand.

Instead of responding to demand, companies are now sending paper products, pasta, beans and holiday items to stores with no need for an order.

man wearing face mask walks with large case of paper towels

Retailers will likely put a limit on high-demand items early, so you may see fewer people walk away with carts full of toilet paper.

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