Panic Buying Isn't Helping Anything Except Packaged Food Brands

It's anarchy at Costco, but it's not making anyone safer—except investors in powerful food conglomerates.
March 3, 2020, 10:29pm
canned food pantry
Photo: Getty Images

Alright America, it's another day of coronavirus panic, another day of getting the same FWD: FWD: FWD: email from a possibly imaginary medical professional, another day of listening to your coworkers ask whether they should cancel their August trip to Iceland, and another day of throwing a second jar of peanut butter in your shopping cart. You know, just in case.

Everyone seems to be picking up an extra jar of peanut butter right now, in addition to other shelf-stable food items, canned goods, and anti-bacterial cleaning products. According to Reuters, over the weekend, some retailers in Hawaii started limiting the amount of toilet paper that each customer could buy. Supermarkets in Taos, New Mexico saw a run on bulk packages of dried pinto beans. And Las Vegas residents described "absolute anarchy" at a Costco that had already run out of TP and bottled water. (As of this writing, there have been zero confirmed cases of coronavirus in Hawaii, Nevada, or New Mexico.)


Although that's bad news for any Las Vegas locals who, you know, just needed a regular amount of toilet paper, some analysts have suggested that all of this panic buying and food-hoarding is great news, at least when it comes to the corporations that manufacture all of that shit.

Michael Lavery, a senior research analyst at Piper Sandler & Co, said that companies like Kellogg, Mondelez International, Campbell's, and Hormel that produce packaged foods could see sales increases between 3 and 7 percent.

“We expect categories like canned soup, peanut butter, canned meat, cookies, crackers, pasta, pasta sauce, protein shakes, frozen food, and canned vegetables to benefit the most from stockpiling,” he told FOX Business. "Cereal is also likely to benefit, but does need milk, which can spoil and so would need a store trip at some point, which could deter some consumers from making it a pantry stock item of choice."

The New York Times also reports that, despite the wild fluctuations in the financial market, a couple of hoarding-adjacent stocks had seen some noticeable increases. During the month of February, Clorox stock had jumped by 6.8 percent, Lamb Weston Holdings, which makes frozen potatoes, was up by 1.4 percent. (Surprisingly, Campbell Soup Company stock has fluctuated during this COVID panic and it has not yet matched its previous 52-week high.)

But unless you're just trying to do your part for the Clorox executive team, experts have suggested that panic buying isn't helpful to anyone. "Panic buying is a self-fulfilling prophecy," Karan Girotra, professor of operations at Cornell University, told USA Today. "If everyone thinks things are going to run out, they go and buy out things and they do run out.”

Experts recommend keeping a 14-day supply of food and medications for any number of non-coronavirus related situations (like weather-related emergencies or natural disasters), but anything beyond that is overkill. And, just a reminder, U.S. surgeon general Jerome M. Adams has asked people to "STOP BUYING MASKS"—yes, in all caps. "[Masks] are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if health care providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk," he added.

So please, leave the toilet paper and extra bag of dried beans at the store. But maybe pick up a bar of soap while you're there: you should be washing your damn hands.