Panic buying: a lesson in waiting


King Soopers shelves as of 4/8/20. The last roll of paper towels can be seen at the far end.

Brent Jones, Activities Writer

It wasn’t too long ago when the shelves of stores were packed with toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and paper towels of all brands and sizes. Now, those same shelves lie empty and desolate, a place where whatever remaining stock is fought over and people will buy even the lowest quality products. Recently, I had the opportunity to return to the store two weeks after I had last been, and there were no products on the shelves at all.

I expected that after two weeks, people’s cash reserves would have been depleted from purchasing such vast quantities of product; I was mistaken. Just like my prior visits, the shelves remained empty; canned food was impossible to buy and all that remained of the paper products was one roll of knockoff “Bounty” paper towels. I am not talking about one pack; there was literally one roll left… in the entire store. This kind of panic is simply unacceptable for a number of reasons. 

In the beginning of this outbreak, when panic buying was at its peak, and stores were selling out of everything, people were crowding into their markets of choice. There were no controls over how many people could be in the store in place yet, and no regulation of distance between individuals. This kind of behavior needlessly exposed thousands of people to a potentially infected person, and certainly contributed to the virulency of COVID-19 in the United States. Furthermore, it boils down to a more ethical problem: when people purchase vast quantities of product early in the hours, they deny others who potentially have no reserves the opportunity to enjoy basic amenities. This is not some kind of race. The supply line still remains strong, and if people moderated their consumption the stores would still be full. 

My father works for an animal health distribution company called Patterson. They distribute vaccines, food, and other products pertaining to the health of everything from cattle to canines. They get the product from the factory to your doorstep. Recently, I had a talk with him and my uncle, who has a similar job, about supply lines in the United States. Looking at how their companies have responded to the crisis, and the impact on distribution channels, they said that there is no need to panic buy. Currently, the supply chains get enough product to your store for everyone to be happy getting what they want, and that by panic buying, people create the problem. However, they did say that in the coming weeks, and possibly right now, supply lines will dip to about 80%, based off of their companies’ channels. This will noticeably impact availability of some products, especially proteins and meat. In fact, the JBS plant, which is the largest cattle processing plant in the US, recently shut down. For those who do not know, that plant is located just east of Fort Collins in Greeley. This only reinforces the need to stop panic buying; if the supply lines are strained, and panic buying continues, it will only become harder for some people to get to the store, and get what they need, generating needless suffering. So, I urge everyone, stop panic buying, give people a chance, and if we all stop doing it we’ll be just fine.