Food (etc) shortages: will they last?

Toilet paper is the best-known household product that has largely disappeared (in addition to things like hand sanitizer, of course).

Most of this is driven by panic buying, which in turn drives more panic buying (“There’s a TP shortage! They just brought some out. Imma buy it ALL because THERE’S A TP SHORTAGE ZOMG!!!1111”). The grocery store near me had been wiped out of virtually any food item you might think you’d need for a long haul hunkering down at home. On Wednesday, my husband was chatting with a neighbor near the mailboxes (they were 6+ feet apart, don’t worry!) and another neighbor drove by: she said she’d heard that Wegman’s had meat back in stock and she was going to get some.

Now, my first thought is that once the panic buying settles down a bit (e.g. after you have your 2 year’s worth of toilet paper and sixty pounds of pasta), normal restocking processes should begin to keep up with more normal demand. Right?

The aspect of this situation that I have not seen on any news source is whether all the shutdowns are affecting things like trucking and rail freight - i.e. whether food distribution systems are yet impacted. With California under statewide lockdown, are truckers still running?

My brother works at a warehouse for a large midwestern grocery chain. So far, nothing is slowing down for them. Drivers are driving, trucks are getting packed and shipped to stores. He says they’re doing about 3x the delivery that they normally do (ie when a store gets a truck a day, now they’re getting 3). His place is all overtime, all day, every day.

My boyfriend works as a truck maintenance mechanic. He says they’re churning out trucks as fast as they can. Trucks are coming in faster than usual because they have scheduled maintenance at certain mileage, so they’re getting more miles now.

On a local group someone asked who is still working outside of their homes. Anyone who works in a factory said they’re still out there working, having their temperatures taken when they come in.

One thing that sucks for truckers is that some of the places they rely on while on the road are closed. Restaurants, truck stops, etc. You might see more truckers at gas stations and grocery stores now.

AFAIK, the food shortages were strictly a matter of very short term spikes in demand- i.e. people cleaned out their local stores. However, the grocery store supply chains aren’t tapped out, and somewhere along that chain, maybe multiple places along that chain, there’s some buffer capacity to handle unforeseen spikes.

So it’s extremely likely they’ll just refill the stores pretty quick and the manufacturers will keep on chugging, and in fairly short order, stock levels will be back to normal.

We’ll see what happen to produce when migrant agricultural workers are kept from entering the country. Who’s going to plant crops this spring? Who’s going to harvest them this fall?

A representative of the grocery industry on the local public radio station yesterday said there isn’t a “shortage” per se, in the sense that manufacturers are capable of making enough stuff for everyone. The problem is that people are buying way more than they actually need, and stores are selling out faster than they can restock. He implored everyone to go back to their normal shopping patterns, and if people did that the level of stock in stores would return to normal.

The supply chain in this country is rather robust. What you are seeing is everybody going into “Hurricane!” mode all at once. 2 weeks from now you won’t be able to get in the stores for all the pallets of TP and paper towels they’ll have sitting around.

I saw a post by a trucker saying their usual grab-and-go food options are gone. He commented that most fast-food restaurants are cool with them walking through the drive-through, but he asked people to help out by ordering food for them if you see one that can’t.

I would think that at some point the hamster shoppers will run out of garage and spare room space and will have to give it a rest. At that point I expect things will return to normal. We’ll see!

According to the biggest local grocery chain (H-E-B -> 350 stores in south Texas and northern Mexico), there aren’t any food shortages. The shelves are bare (when they are bare) because customers are stripping them and the store can’t get them restocked fast enough before the next batch of locusts arrives. I understand buying more now during your shopping trip than maybe you did two weeks ago just so you won’t have to come back so soon, but it’s not necessary to clean out the stores every day.

Several days ago, laundry detergent was mostly gone from supermarket shelves in this area. There might have been a lone jug of Persil here and there, but that was about it. Yesterday, it looked like the supply was starting to trickle back, even for Tide. Bar soap, inducing Dove, also seems to be returning slowly.

Toilet paper: if you go early, you might find a few packages of some store brand or Scott. None of the good stuff, like Charmin. Same thing for paper towels. It’s more than what was around last week, though.

All those out of work waiters?

If the population of the country stays the same, the total amount of food consumed will stay the same. Under the circumstances, it will be diverted from restaurants to consumer grocery stores, sit-down restaurants to takeouts, and delivery services will become more active, but it’s the same aggregate amount of food.

If people hoard food in their pantry or freezer, and the threat diminishes significantly in the next few weeks or months, the stores may become overstocked, since people don’t need to go to the store if their breakfast, lunch and dinner are already at home. I can even foresee sales to clear excess inventory or clogged supply pipelines.

Unlike food, some products will have to be produced and distributed in larger quantities – cleaning and sanitizing stuff. The market will adjust as long as it is allowed to.

The clerk I talked to at my local Wegmans today said they’re receiving toilet paper but paper lurk until the doors open and then just strip the shelves bare.

Who are these people? Shouldn’t the people who have been stripping the shelves bare every day have enough TP by now? Are they just piling rolls on top of rolls? Are they making home-made masks sheet by sheet to sell on Etsy? What can they be thinking?

We were told to stock up on food so we limit trips to the grocery store to avoid exposure.

That’s the conclusion this CNBC article came to a couple of days ago - we’ll soon see a hell of a lot more TP etc and the stores are going to end up with too much of it.

Judging by my experience with unskilled people trying to do farm work: at quarter speed at best, and doing significant damage to both the harvested crop and (when applicable, for crops for which it matters) the plants they’re harvesting from while they’re at it.

It seems to be a common impression that the work migrant agricultural workers are doing is totally unskilled and anybody can do it, can do it right, can do it at speed, and can do it for at least somewhere near fulltime hours in a day. None of those things is true.

People who are in decent physical shape and willing can learn, of course. But it can take years to get them fully up on the job.

Shit I’m going through more food per week than I have in years. I make 40 extra lunches in my house a week.

The same phenomenon has happened in the UK (and elsewhere I’m willing to bet), but oddly did not occur in Italy.

The British supermarkets are drastically reducing the number of products they are asking their suppliers to produce. From a BBC report:

Also 24 hour supermarkets are closing for a few hours at night to stop unscrupulous late night hoarders and to give the staff more space and time to restock the shelves. Then the first hour of business is open only to customers over 70 or people with other special needs.

Most are also restricting purchase of products to a maximum of three per customer.

How long this lasts is anyones guess but the thinking is that the it should calm down.

And as my brother pointed out, the smaller independent supermarkets all seem to be better stocked. He visited a Halal butcher (we are not Muslim) and bought some really nice cuts of meat and there was plenty of availability.

Is that you, Captain Von Trapp?

Seriously, eight lunches per day? Who are all those people?

My SIL, later a rather prominent author, practiced and taught martial arts while at uni. Very athletic and nimble. She took a summer job picking strawberries. Lasted exactly one day. Aggie work is NOT for the inexperienced.