“Bread for myself is a material question. Bread for my neighbor is a spiritual one.” — Nikolai Berdyaev
Several blogs over the last few months have focused on the problems right now with the supply chain. From shipping to trucking to labor and energy, we have tried to look at the pressing issues and ignore the dismissals and blame too often espoused by politicians, pundits, and the mainstream media. These issues could resolve themselves, leaving us with just the opportunity to learn from the mistake of outsourcing manufacturing and production, or these global problems could compound, mix with other issues, and create new problems. Only history will accurately reveal what will end up being the catalyst to create more significant problems, but that will still be left open to interpretation.
This blog will look at a known catalyst that we have witnessed recently– panic buying. Monitoring the panic buying behaviors at different stores will be a good indicator of what the next 3-months will look like for you and your area, and it can help you understand what is next to be in short supply. Panic buying can drive up prices, create scarcity that fuels more panic buying behaviors, and can take essential goods out of the hands of people who need them most. If it sets in at any significant level, I guarantee you these supply-chain problems we face will seem minor right now. Here, we will look at the specific signs that a panic buying mentality is establishing itself in the minds of consumers, how you should respond, and what purchases and steps you can and should make now to minimize their impact on you. For many of us, panic buying and runs on banks were the things of lore. In recent years, though, we have soberingly witnessed panic runs on everything from rice to bottled water to toilet paper and ammo. Understanding how panic buying occurs and how it plays out gives you an edge over the masses and dramatically increases your odds of long-term survival. Let’s jump in…
PROFILE OF THE PANIC BUYER
Panic buying begins as a chain reaction. One person starts buying up or unloading their massive purchase at their house, and then others see that and conclude that they should get what they need before it’s all gone. Seeing someone else snapping up the available supply provides you with social approval and justification for your panicked buying activities. Once enough people start reducing inventories, and the empty shelves make a great photo opportunity for the media or end up on social media, that one person’s panic buying just turned into thousands more people panic buying. People who may have typically waited until payday to do their shopping suddenly hit the stores and create huge crowds, more photo opportunities, heightened frenzied buying, and consumer anxiety. Fear of missing out tempts even the most stable of people to grab what they need and get in line.
Stores try to limit the purchases on some items, but these attempts are in vain because they only lend validity to the shortages. There may be plenty of the product in inventory at warehouses across your country or on shipments that are already on the way, but these will be snapped up quickly by anyone who wasn’t able to grab their supply of the product in the first initial round of buying. If the store is too restrictive, runs out of too many products too fast, or fails to mitigate the rising temperature of its customers, mob rule can take over. At this point, a mob mentality can turn normally pleasant, peaceful, law-abiding citizens into opportunistic looters. People will always justify their actions to the necessity of survival.
It does not always play out this way. Typically, there is just a run on a few products, and the unjustified panic buying is revealed to be absurd. We saw this with the toilet paper crisis of 2020 and the rice crisis of 2008. Often the run is tied to news around the world. Droughts, crop failures, war, political tensions, and natural disasters can create the atmosphere and oxygen for a panic buying activity to start and spin out of control. The result of panic buying is that supply chains get stretched to the breaking point. This increases delays and adds fuel to the belief that shortages are genuine and will continue. Food inflation also occurs, and this adds even more fuel to the panic buying wildfire. So, even if the panic buying isn’t necessary, it becomes a real thing– a real crisis that cannot be contained.
Friends, neighbors, strangers all have to get swept up into it. Even as someone who is prepared, you may find that your inventory on something is low. You may want to pull the trigger on that generator you’ve been waiting to purchase at next week’s sale price. You may want to top off your fuel tanks or call in an order for propane delivery. You might find yourself placing an online order or two to make sure that you have what you need to make it through an, as of yet, unknown drought of a supply of goods. All but the most stocked preppers are able to avoid being swept up into the fire of panic buying at some level.
That’s the consumer panic buyer. What you should look for to determine how real and justified the panic buying may be is when big importers like processors, manufacturers, or governments start hoarding or placing large orders to maintain their flow of products. At this point, and after news of this trickles down to the average consumer, panic buying will be out of control.
WHAT GOES WHERE AND WHEN
A panic buying frenzy that is burning out of control still follows an established pattern based upon the thought processes of the general population. Understanding the general order of how things are depleted will help you to assess what you should be picking up and where you should be focusing your activities to stay ahead of the herd. While not always a hundred percent this way, certain stores have specific patterns of inventory depletion. Here is a look at some of those patterns by store:
Grocery stores are first because this is where we see the first absolute emptying of shelves. I will spend more time on these stores than I do on any other stores because food is one of those essentials you need to survive. If you are already prepping or beginning prepping, you can hopefully stay out of grocery stores and look at the other essential items you may need. The first things to go in a grocery store are sugar, salt, flour, rice, beans, Ramen, canned soups and vegetables, bulk purchases of shelf-stable foods, bottled and canned water, dairy, eggs, alcohol, toilet paper, dry goods, cereal, bread, anything frozen, and pasta. These easily grabbed items typically linger on the shelves for days or weeks before needing to be replenished. Even when the canned soups are gone, however, you will probably still be able to find dry packaged soups and bullion. Also, expect runs on canned meats, canned fish, canned fruits, pancake and cake mixes, baby food, powdered milk, and cereal bars.
The average person thinks that they can survive on a 25-pound bag of pinto beans because that’s what they were able to find and grab. However, they have never cooked a pot of beans in their life, nor do they realize that eating 3-cups each of beans and rice per day to provide them the calories needed for survival isn’t an easily digestible solution. Their thinking leads to a behavior based on food security, and hunger is one of the primary motivators of thought and impulsive behavior, right along with the need for water and the need for reproduction.
Many people may not be buying up some critical items in this first wave, which you can focus on to your benefit if you feel the panic buying may be justified. Pickled goods have high levels of sodium, which is essential in a survival situation. Nut butters, while often snapped up in the first wave, sometimes are still available. More expensive protein shakes may not have been all snapped up in the first wave of panic buying. While you can pretty much forget canned goods, the ethnic food aisles may have been overlooked. If you have a pet, you should take this opportunity to get a big bag of their food. If you are a regular coffee drinker, you should pick up an extra pound or two and possibly some of that instant stuff. You may still be able to pick up some yeast, but you should consider your own sourdough starter or the technique we outlined recently in a video. The butter may be gone, but there still may be vegetable oil or expensive coconut oil. Bulk salt may still be available. Dried fruits may still be available. You have to realize that the average person cannot cook and probably jokes that they don’t know how to boil water. It is more than a joke, though, and any pre-prepared meals will be snapped up along with the pasta and jars of sauces. Many vegetables, however, will still be available because these require processing and the knowledge of how to cook them. Believe it or not, large containers of powdered drink mixes and candy are good purchases during these frenzied buying periods. If things get progressively worse, you can barter with them. If you are forced to remain locked down because of deteriorating civil conditions outside, they will provide you a boost and later a bartering commodity.
Beyond food, consider the vitamins, over-the-counter medicines, ziplock baggies, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, trash bags, and other items people won’t be immediately apt to grab in a panic buying frenzy. Most people don’t have a few days’ food on hand, let alone enough for a week or more of survival. So, most people will be focused on food. Prepping in advance for disasters and the possible panic buying which may ensue positions you further from the chaos and allows you to fill in the gaps with other essentials. Finally, I have to mention purchasing online. If you see your grocery stores are bare, you can sometimes secure your item through major online retailers like Amazon. They stock many of the essential staple groceries you are looking for, or you could deploy an online shopper to secure these items while you tend to other things. Once you get to the checkout line, you can bet the run on these secondary items will happen, as others see them in your cart. If you are already stocked on these items and more, your best bet is to avoid the grocery stores altogether. These will be the epicenters of the growing crisis.
APPLIANCE & HARDWARE STORES
The big item to be snapped up at your local appliance stores will be home freezers followed by refrigerators. Consumers will be looking to store all those frozen foods and meats they snapped up and have a supply of these in the future that exceeds their home refrigerator’s capacity. At the hardware store, where some of these appliances are also available, cleaning supplies, propane, office food supplies like coffee and water, personal protection equipment, and lumber will all be rapidly purchased. If the underlying crisis driving the panic buying doesn’t appear to have an end in sight, also expect that any canning supplies, seeds, and vegetable plants will also disappear from the shelves. Expect also for the store to run out of tarps and cordage. Even if the shelves look thin and the carts look full, you might not be entirely out of luck. If you need one of these critical items I mentioned, there is usually still a thin inventory available online. By purchasing online, you can sometimes secure your item even while the shelves are bare.
If you don’t have a decent pair of work gloves and a pair extra, now is the time to pick them up. Most won’t think of this secondary item, nor will they be looking at this time for a hammer, ax, saw, hatchet, or similar tools that you will need if things get even worse. Purchasing a low-voltage LED light or solar lights like solar flood lights might also be a good purchase at this time. They’ll provide you with consistent light even if the situation worsens and the power goes out. Propane heater attachments may be helpful, depending upon your climate. Fire pits and grills are big sellers. If you too don’t see an end to the crisis you face, you may also want to pick up chlorine and pool shock for water purification later. If you find yourself in the frenzy of panic buying at your local appliance or hardware store, look for these secondary items that won’t immediately be flying off the shelf.
When the panic buying of anything starts in earnest, people immediately begin thinking of filling their gas tanks. Long lines start forming almost within hours of the onset of panic buying. You should look to get the fuel you need as well, but fuel has a shelf life. If you believe the situation giving rise to the panic buying will continue, consider grabbing a propane tank or a case of oil and an oil filter for your car before those are gone, as well. Fuel stations are a good indicator of how bad it will get because everyone drives by them on their way to work or home. We don’t always see the chaos at the grocery store, but we always note the traffic and lines of people clamoring for gas. As for indicators of what is to come, when the pumps go out of service because they are pumped dry, expect massive panic buying to kick in as people deduce that if they can’t get gas, they won’t be able to get other items soon as well. They’re not wrong. If the gas supply is overdrawn, creating deserts in the system, deliveries are impacted. This compounds the perception of shortages and further fuels panic buying activities.
Though overpriced, convenience stores carry food, alcohol, even medicines. If you find yourself waiting in the fuel line, it might be worth sending one of your passengers in to secure a few items while you wait. Just be warned that when someone sees you walking away with two propane tanks or two bags of groceries, the likelihood of that convenience store having a run is very high.
DRUGSTORES AND DOLLAR STORES
Drugstores are food stores as well. There are foods you will still find there when grocery stores are being impacted. Chips, nuts, candy, canned goods, water, and distilled spirits are all probably available at the drugstore. The people who will be panic buying here will be there for medicine and drugs. Getting last-minute prescriptions filled will bring in many panic buyers. If you have medicines that you know you will need, you too will want to get your prescription filled. If you foresee a significant disruption in the future, you will want to call your doctor and press them to write a script for an extra supply of any of your vital medications. Vitamins, over-the-counter medicines, first aid supplies, soap, and cleaning supplies will all be part of the first round of panic buying when these stores get hit. Look for personal hygiene products like wipes that can serve multiple functions in a grid-down situation. Trash bags and paper towels may still be available. Bars of soap, candles, even batteries may still be available. Even when panic buying happens at these stores, you can probably pick up bottles of isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide and bulk containers of baking soda. Those will be useful in a multitude of ways. All of these secondary items will be useful to you if there is an extended supply chain downtime.
Even if you don’t drink, alcohol has many uses for cleaning, sterilization, and bartering. A large 1.75-liter bottle of cheap vodka, whiskey, or rum has an alcohol content high enough to have many uses, from cleaning to sterilization to lamp fuel. It will also stay good forever, so you don’t have to worry about the shelf-life. If you see a run at the grocery store, you might make a quick trip to the liquor store and beat the crowds. If you’re at the grocery store, you might consider throwing a bottle or two of hard liquor in your cart. In addition to distilled spirits, you can expect wine and beer to be part of people’s panic buying spontaneous purchases. Alcohol is an anxiety-decreasing morale-boosting solution for many so that people will be stocking up against an uncertain future supply.
OUTDOOR & SPORTING STORES
Your outdoor and sportsman stores are hard hit when a storm of panic buying is causing shortages everywhere. Unfortunately, most of these products are manufactured in China, so they are subject to lean inventories on hand and supply-chain delays and stoppages. Still, expect runs on everything. Guns, knives, ammo, personal water filtration systems, tents, canteens, fishing rods, tackle, hiking boots, foods, propane canisters, grills, dehydrators, and more are all potential impulse panic purchases. If the inventory in your local outdoor stores starts to dwindle, whatever you are facing is going to be bad and is probably getting worse. People are emergency prepping themselves for the potential of having to live off the land or in the wild. Still, grocery stores will experience the panic buying waves a day or two before the sporting goods stores do.
WHAT SHOULD BE YOUR FOCUS?
Your focus, now, in anticipation of possible shortages and panic buying behaviors, should be any of the things I have so far mentioned. If you are new to prepping, pick the most essential items and start there. Buy the big bag of white rice while it’s cheap, some Ramen, and a few other essentials I have mentioned here. Focus on non-perishable foods: canned meats, tuna, peanut butter, cereals, bars, pancake mixes, and cooking oil. Make sure you know how to cook these things and start buying in bulk. This won’t guarantee your survival, but building your supply of these things will be a positive first step in your prepping process. If there is no panic buying in your area, you will have taken a giant step forward in your preps. Don’t waste your time or money on bottled water, but do look into even a small water filtration pitcher or personal straw in case the municipal supplies fail.
If you have been prepping for a few months, assess any signs of panic buying in your area and also take a look at your supplies. Do you have pinto beans but have never cooked a batch of them? Try a trial run and cook and only eat your beans and rice for a few days. Your body will tell you what other long shelf-life foods you will want in your inventory. Start a shopping list and pick up a few extra items with each of your trips to the store. Top up inventories of freeze-dried, canned, powdered, and pickled foods. Start working with them in your diet now and cooking them like the grid is down. Let your practice with these things as you incorporate them into your everyday life illuminate for you what you still need in your prepping supplies.
If you have the freezer space, cook double and freeze a meal’s worth when you cook a meal. If there is no need to use it, you will have more instant dinner options available to you. If you do need to use it because of an extended disaster that keeps you indoors, you can minimize cooking by simply reheating the food. Concentrate your preps on non-perishables and other essentials. If no panic buying occurs, you won’t have to worry about foods expiring. You will also be ready for the next emergency that does come your way. I have covered in other videos that it is seldom a good idea to use a credit card to get prepping supplies. Most disasters in life have a recovery phase. You don’t want to have a bunch of non-refundable items and a mass of credit bills when the economy does recover, and long before a total collapse, your credit card will have stopped working.
Will panic buying occur as a result of the supply-chain problems we are currently witnessing? Undoubtedly, we can already see some hoarding activities here and there. Much will depend on whether the supply-chain issues get better, natural disasters, and shortages are minimal. News of the latest cyberattacks on Iowa grain belt co-ops or similar cyberattacks could become the match that ignites panic buying in these periods of high consumer anxiety. When these hoarding and frenzied purchasing activities are seen at several stores across an array of products, a more significant, compounded problem is created, supply chains are stretched to the breaking point, and an all-out panic buying frenzy can occur. The best way to stay ahead of that possibility is to prepare now for an uncertain future. Take small, incremental steps toward building a 3-day, then 3-week, then 3-month or longer supply of food and water. If you don’t, and the supply chains continue to fail and panic buying ramps up, you will be forced into being part of the herd. Prepping can keep you out of the troubles the masses face.
What do you think? Do you see any panic buying behaviors in your area? What do you think is next to be in short supply? Let us all know in the comments below. I read many of the comments and respond to them when I can, typically within the first hour of releasing a video. I can notify you when other videos become available if you take that step to subscribe to this channel.
As always, stay safe out there.