Many aspects of this pandemic don’t add up for me. From the outset here in the UK we increasingly saw shelves becoming empty in the supermarkets.
We were told there was no shortage of food, and that “panic-buying” was to blame.
The thing with panic-buying though is that it only takes one or a few people to clear an item out which then leads to the impression of “mass-panic”.
I wasn’t immune to this.
Due to finding certain things missing from the shelves I found myself stocking up a little when I could, with eggs for example, because I normally eat a few eggs in a day and therefore I attempted to buy enough to last me a week or more, as I normally would.
Eggs was a weird one I thought.
Even a topic on the radio one day was explaining that there was no shortage of eggs per-se because restaurants that normally used a lot were closed. The problem, it was said, was due to to a lack of packaging; eggs supplied to restaurants are bulk packaged and there are only a few manufacturers of egg boxes in the whole of Europe. Supermarkets, it seemed, have been unable (or unwilling) to change their processes here since they could have sourced these bulk-packaged eggs and either supplied them to customers like me who would have happily purchased a tray-load, or even reused an old egg box.
Even a few weeks later and there still appears to be a shortage of eggs with either some varieties missing entirely or as in the case of my local Co-Op, a limit of one box of eggs each.
This limitation was nonsensical to me.
The cheapest eggs are 80p for a box of 6, whereas a box of 12 of the same variety was more than twice the price at £1.85. I wasn’t allowed to buy two boxes of 6 though as I normally would. Alternatively I could have gone back each day to buy the eggs I needed but this would further my risk of either catching the Coronavirus, or spreading it if I happened to already have it.
On my previous egg-collecting-occasion I opted to use the self-service checkout and my single box of eggs had to be authorised, which involved the supervisor coming within two meters of me to access the checkout machine… twice, because it rejected the transaction the first time!
Further to this, how is the shop to know if I’m only buying for myself or a family of six or more? Perhaps I’m also collecting supplies for an at-risk friend, family member, or neighbour.
Typically, as I noticed, the cheapest items would sell out first, whether it be eggs, porridge or something else that people were seemingly stocking up on, thus leaving the more expensive brands and varieties on the shelves for a little longer.
One caller to a radio show was bemused by a shortage of the lactose free milk she required since, as she stated “not everyone needs lactose free milk”. It was, I suspected, likely that the normal, bulk-standard, cheap milk had told out and other customers were turning to whatever was left.
Who wins here?
The supermarket wins if there is a shortage of the cheapest varieties of things because customers will be forced to spend more on the more expensive versions.
Of course it would be unethical for supermarkets to do this, wouldn’t it.
On another occasion another caller to a radio show referred to the food rationing that took place during World War II. “Was it really how it was reported back then?” they wondered. Perhaps the same was happening then; there was no food shortage but there was panic buying.
Back to our present situation and there was later contradictory news that revealed that there are indeed supply line issues with freight coming in from abroad (as much of our produce is indeed imported).
[EDIT] I later visited my local Spar shop and a customer was waiting outside and as I approached the door she informed me she “thought” we were supposed to be waiting outside until called in. I asked he if she was sure, as I could see no sign and no member of staff near the entrance… she seemed certain but I wasn’t convinced, yet wasn’t prepared to stand around waiting like a muppet so I toddled off to the next shop.
The Co-Op experience was odd and frustrating also. The disabled and mother-toddler parking spaces had been taken over by strategically placed up-turned shopping trolleys/carts. I wasn’t sure why this was but later figured out the area was likely reserved for busy times and a queue of customers that was presently missing.
Once in the store, like last time, there were signs around which I only glanced at and walked between, then just as I became aware of arrows on the floor, I was called at by a member of staff asking me to follow said arrows. Since mentioning the other store above whereby I was struggling to navigate the shop and maintain anti-social distancing when one or more people would block the way I acknowledged the deployment of arrows here but they still thwarted me; I had to go all the way up one aisle next to the one I wanted to visit, then when I was finally at the reduced section I was caught in a conundrum…
The item I picked up I wanted to check against another further down the aisle, but once there I found a full priced item to be a better deal… how to put the reduced one back!? Navigate against the arrows? It was like a basket ball manoeuvre whereby you can’t take more than one step with the ball!
There was still a shortage of canned items and a limit on one box of eggs. A disappointing shopping experience and to be faced by an advert from them on Twitter when I got home was somewhat annoying:
I happen to know someone who is getting food bank support and they tell me they have more canned food than anything, so perhaps that is where all the canned food is going.
It’s great that people who are really out of food are being helped out, but I don’t understand how there are still empty shelves at Co-Op all these weeks in.