Post #543: Genteel panic buying

Posted on March 9, 2020

Source:  Target website.

I went shopping at the Pan Am Safeway last night and, for the first time, there was clear evidence of some panic buying going on.  But after a while, I noticed that this was of a different sort than occurred at Home Depot (Post #535).

So, what do these things have in common:

  • Shrimp-flavored ramen
  • Unsalted saltine crackers
  • Generic toilet paper

It’s what remains after what I can only describe as genteel panic buying.  Sure, we’re hoarders, but we’re only going to hoard the good stuff.  So the list above is among the items that remained nearly untouched, even as shoppers attempted to clear the shelves of the more desirable stuff.

And, for the first time ever, I noted modest disarray in what is typically the neatest section of the store — canned vegetables.

I fully realize the seriousness of the current epidemic.  Based on epidemiology from China, best guess for the fatality rate in my demographic (male, 60-69) is probably close to 5%. (To be clear, that means that if you get the disease, that’s the estimated death rate.  The fraction of the Chinese population actually infected so far is miniscule.)  For both sexes, in that age group, the mortality rate averages 3.6%, based on cases diagnosed in China through mid-February.

Source:  The graph above is taken from the BBC.

That said, I still got a laugh out of the condition of our local Safeway.  Only in the ‘burbs does hardship take the form of having to use chunk light tuna because all the solid white has already been bought.  Or actually having to cook your oatmeal, as all the instant and minute oatmeal has been stripped from the shelves.

It just does not yet come across as a real panic.  It’s like people read about which items they should hoard, and then dutifully bought the list.  E.g., bottled water was sold out, but soda, seltzer, and so on were essentially untouched.  Canned salmon was sold out, but fresh salmon was plentiful (hey, it freezes well.)  There were gaping holes in the beans and lentils section, but the beans and lentils section of the Hispanic foods aisle was fully stocked.

Better to be prepared than not.  And let’s hope we can get by this without a full-blown epidemic.  But so far, the level of panic buying just reinforces how privileged we are out here in the wealth DC ‘burbs.  And that, so far, things still seem to be fairly well under control.