Food is Abundant: Why are Shelves Empty?

Panic at Costco
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Why the Bare Shelves?

These people apparently do not know the difference between a low-grade respiratory virus pandemic, and a full-blown global catastrophe. Almost 12.5 million people have died on Earth in 2020 so far, and about 8,000 of those died from Wuhan Coronavirus.

Look at the empty shelves. This is the face of panic. When everyone decides to visit the store at the same time for the purposes of panic-hoarding the same items — without giving the stores time to re-stock — the reason for the empty shelves has nothing to do with the availability of food. Even online retailer Amazon has been forced to prioritize shipments for certain high-demand items such as toilet paper, sanitizers, health supplies, baby supplies, etc. because of online panic-buying.

It is a sad display of unwarranted fear, egged on by a panic-stoking news media that has no sense of perspective or basic honesty.

Here is a look at actual food availability across America:

“There is food being produced. There is food in warehouses,” said Julie Anna Potts, chief executive of the North American Meat Institute, a trade group for beef, pork and turkey packers and producers. “There is plenty of food in the country.”

“Our stores are getting stocked every day,” Ron Vachris, chief operating officer of Costco, said in an interview on Saturday. “Transportation is functioning, our suppliers are working around the clock and the flow of goods is strong.”

The National Chicken Council said it was not seeing any disruptions in production and noted that there were “ample surplus supplies of chicken in cold storage” — totaling more than 950 million pounds, according to government data.

Still, the fear is palpable. The more empty shelves people see, the more panic-buying ensues, the more food is out of stock.

… But even as farmers and slaughterhouses ramp up, producing food takes time. In the poultry industry, it takes 10 days for a chicken egg to incubate and hatch, and then five to six weeks for the bird to grow to maturity. For some chicken suppliers, the process takes even longer, depending on the type of bird.

Across the industry, “you’re talking about 50 days to get to a customer,” said Matthew Wadiak, who runs Cooks Venture, a chicken supplier based in Arkansas and Oklahoma. “Fifty days ago, we didn’t know this was even on the horizon. There was essentially no way to plan for it.”

… It’s clear that the modern supply chain, for all its efficiency and speed, is not equipped to deal with this kind of surge.

Algorithms, perfected by Amazon, can pinpoint exactly how much inventory a warehouse or particular store must keep on hand during a typical week, right down to the soup can. But no algorithm could predict this extraordinary moment, leading to widespread out-of-stocks of hundreds of household necessities.

“When the shelf is emptied in the course of 24 hours and the safety stock was built intent upon protecting a week or two of demand, you get this tremendous dislocation,” said Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School.

… industries are starting to make contingency plans in case large numbers of workers producing and delivering food are incapacitated by the virus or roads are shut down as part of the effort to control the pandemic. Representatives for companies that deliver food in refrigerated trucks, for example, are working with local and state officials to make sure they can still make deliveries during quarantines. Some refrigerated warehouse workers could rotate in 14 day shifts to make sure there is backup.

On Friday, officials from every part of the food chain — from fresh produce suppliers to refrigerated warehouses — met outside Washington, D.C., to discuss responses to the pandemic, including ideas for how to bolster parts of the system against disruptions.

For now, the most pressing issue is getting more food on the shelves, while the supply chain is largely unaffected by illness. __

This behavior has been going on since early March of this year, but seems to have intensified over the past week, along with the global stock market selling frenzy. The world might be better off if persons who are so prone to panic were not allowed to vote. Such people are apparently very easily swayed by grifters in politics, media, and academia.

The Retail Industry is Responding

Some people have to make sure the wheels keep rolling and the product gets to the customer.

Grocers big and small are hiring more workers, paying overtime and limiting purchases on certain high demand items as they scramble to restock shelves that have been wiped out by panic shopping in response to the global viral pandemic.

Amazon said Tuesday that it will only accept shipments from suppliers of cleaning equipment, medical supplies and household goods at its warehouses for the next three weeks to fill surging demand. It is hiring 100,000 people across the U.S. to keep up with a crush of orders as more people stay at home and shop online. It will also temporarily raise pay by $2 an hour through the end of April for hourly employees.

Many grocers are also limiting purchases of products like Purell sanitizers, Lysol cleaning spray and canned soup so that there is enough to go around. And companies like Walmart and Wegman’s are curbing store hours for the public in order to give workers time to restock shelves. __ Source

The Science of Panic

Our brains evolved in such a way as to be attuned to the actions of others around us. If we see others begin to lose rational control, we become prone to making panic-driven decisions in turn.

Since the coronavirus began spreading across the world, we’ve learned a lot about the lengths to which people will go for a roll of toilet paper, a tube of hand sanitizer or a face mask. As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases increases and states and countries lock down large gatherings or shops to promote social distancing, these uncertainties are driving the so-called “panic-buying” that’s emptying store shelves quicker than they can be restocked.

Panic-buying supplies is one way humans have coped with uncertainty over epidemics since at least 1918 during the Spanish flu—when people in Baltimore raided drug stores for anything that would prevent the flu or relieve its symptoms—all the way up to the 2003 SARS outbreak.

“When you’re seeing extreme responses. It’s because people feel like their survival is threatened and they need to do something to feel like they’re in control,” explains Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Panic starts when a negotiation of sorts in the brain goes awry. Koenen explains that the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, wants us to get out of harm’s way immediately—and it doesn’t care how we avoid the lion.

But the frontal cortex, which handles your behavioral responses, insists that we think the lion situation through first. When might we run into a lion again, and what to do about it?

Sometimes anxiety can get in the way. Rather than talking directly to the parts of our brains that are good at planning and making decisions, the frontal cortex gets confused by all the cross-talk between other parts of the brain that are determined to play out all the possible scenarios for how we might become a lion’s dinner.

Panic happens when the whole thing short-circuits.

While our frontal cortex wants to think about where the lions may be tomorrow night, our amygdalas are in overdrive.

“Panic happens when that more rational part of your brain [the frontal cortex] gets overrun by emotion,” Koenen says. Your fear is so acute that the amygdala takes over and adrenaline kicks in. __

Unfortunately, too much of western news media is constantly focused on creating anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. There are underlying political reasons why the managing interests of media outlets attempt to manipulate the emotions of those who consume their product. The brighter persons in the population learn to tune the media out as much as possible. The alternative is to live in a state of chronic anxiety.

Panic buying at the gun store — never pass up the opportunity to buy more guns & ammo.

As frenzied stockpiling stripped gun specialty stores of inventory, more people also went online to order gun supplies in recent weeks. Online ammunition retailer witnessed an exponential increase in sales since late February, which the company attributes to public worry surrounding coronavirus.

Are people capable of learning from their own over-reactions? Wait and see.

“Panic leads your brain to think with emotion rather than intellectual higher processes of your brain,” said Mona Degan, a primary care physician in Los Angeles. “This can lead to irrational decisions, especially if we are part of a large group of people trying to do the same thing, such as stocking up on household supplies, which leads to unnecessary shortages.” __ ABC News


Another look at “the great post-millennial panic”

Pseudo-apocalypse in San Francisco: This would be a great time to film a post-apocalyptic film set in the city by the bay.

Elon Musk points out that the panic is worse than the virus. But then, that is so often true of many of our fears.

Africa slowly braces for coronavirus

As the number of cases on the continent has slowly climbed, reaching more than 410 across 30 countries on Tuesday, some African leaders tried to prepare their countries to prevent the spread of the virus. Senegal banned public gatherings, including religious ones. South Africa declared a national disaster and closed half its borders. Libya closed its airspace.

If you intend to panic-hoard, at least do so at a time when most other people are complacent. If people would learn to stagger their panic a few at a time, they would look a lot less like a stampeding herd of steers.

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5 Responses to Food is Abundant: Why are Shelves Empty?

  1. Ed Asner says:

    People are buying so they don’t have to leave their house when the epidemic is at it’s peak. I am trying to avoid catching this so I am self isolating for a while.

    • alfin2101 says:

      Perhaps with Costco, Target, and Walmart shelves empty, more people will re-discover the few mom & pop community stores that have managed to hang on. I was in one last night that still had mostly full shelves.

  2. Will Brown says:

    To address your titular question directly, there aren’t enough delivery drivers or vehicles to accommodate the extreme quantities of food and other products this level of customer demand requires. Nor can stores unload those trucks in the available time if they existed (not enough loading dock space). Nor can the stores receive and put on shelves the sheer amount of goods being bought daily, even with stores normally 24/7 being closed overnight (there aren’t the employees, nor the internal floor space, to stage and shelve that much material in that time frame.

    Eventually, peoples home storage limitations will force a curtailment on the current panic-driven shopping frenzy, at which time people’s shopping habits will return to something more closely resembling what most of us regard as “normal”. Patience, friend … 🙂

  3. JerryO says:

    Your site is awesome. I read it every day, just dont comment as much as I should. Thanks for all your hard work

  4. Pingback: Panic buying, food shortages – Vanishing American II

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