Panic buying

Will booze panic buying be next?

March 5, 2020
By Alana House

Swings and roundabouts … while drinks companies are reporting sales slumps due to the coronavirus, could panic buying turn their fortunes around?

Australians have been going to desperate lengths to stock up on toilet paper this week – a shopper allegedly pulled a knife on another customer during an argument over loo rolls at the Woolworths supermarket at Westfield Parramatta on Wednesday afternoon.

Police had to taser a man after a fight over toilet paper broke out at a Big W in Tamworth on Thursday.

Officers were called to the store after being told a 50-year-old man had argued with a staff member and another customer before he allegedly assaulted them.

Demand was so high at Mount Druitt Coles that a security guard was stationed permanently in the aisle to monitor panic buying.

“We’re going through a pallet every ten minutes or so,” he said.

Australia’s chief medical officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, told Parliament panic buying toilet paper wasn’t a “proportionate or sensible thing to do at this time”.

Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman agreed, saying customers had “no need to panic”. He has received assurances from major supermarket chains that warehouse inventories remained high.

“We’re comfortable there’s no risk to the availability of food or household essentials,” he said.

“If a brand you wish to purchase isn’t available today, it’ll probably be back on the shelf tomorrow.”

“There is still plenty of stock in distribution centres to supply retailers of essential items across the country.”

And Kleenex has reassured Aussies via Facebook: “Australia, don’t panic! We are working around the clock at our mill in South Australia to keep the supermarket shelves stocked … As you can see we won’t be running out anytime soon.”

Preparing for boozy lockdown

Others have decided to heading to their local bottle shop to buy alcohol is the better option.

Photos are emerging on social media of people mocking toilet paper panic buying by sharing photos of their drink stockpiles.

“Some call it panic bulk buying, I call it erring on the side of caution! Thank God for Dan Murphy’s,” one Twitter image was captioned.

‘To those who depleted the supermarket shelves of toilet paper and pasta in preparation for the coronavirus – I have all the chocolate and the wine. Your move,” another said.

“You guys feel free to clean out Costco of toilet paper, I’m heading to Dan Murphy’s to clean out the red aisles,” another Tweet read.

One shopper noted a multi-purpose use for alcohol following a shortage of hand sanitiser at chemists and supermarkets.

“Plenty of hand sanitiser still available at Dan Murphy’s” they posted, alongside a bottle of vodka.

An Instagram user wrote: “I couldn’t get toilet roll but figure we could use the cardboard from the Verve if we get desperate #panicbuying.”

Another Tweet read: “Going coronavirus disaster preparation shopping with the wife tonight: Two weeks of canned/dry food and alcohol, actually, double the alcohol. Cold/flu meds, more booze, pet food, disinfectants and more booze.”

Another tweeted: “coronavirusaustralia #panicbuying Everyone buying shit paper. Meanwhile me …”

Judith Matloff at Vice joked that those fearing a coronavirus lock down should stock up on booze to make complex cocktails in confinement: “I just happened upon a concoction called the Quarantine, reportedly first mixed in 1920s Manila. Bartenders disagree on ingredients; you’ll have ample empty hours to try them all. A common version involves 45 ml rum, 7 ml gin, 7 ml dry vermouth, lemon and orange juice, two dashes of absinthe and an egg white.

“Other variants throw in fresh ginger and rhubarb, passion and grapefruit juice, and bitters and cinnamon. In homage to the pandemic’s origins, experiment with baiju, China’s version of vodka. If you can’t get to the liquor store before seclusion begins, mix in whatever else you find lying around the house. Rename the concoction ’19’.”

Alcohol companies donate ethanol

On a more serious note, makers of soju, South Korea’s national drink, are helping in the fight on the largest outbreak of coronavirus outside China by sharing their stockpiles of alcohol with makers of sanitisers.

“Ethanol demand for disinfection has grown while supply is limited … we have decided to provide it,” an official of Daesun Distilling, based in the southeastern city of Busan, told Reuters.

The company has pledged to donate 32 tonnes of ethanol for use in disinfecting buildings and public places in Busan and southeastern Daegu, the city at the centre of South Korea’s outbreak.

“We plan to keep donating until the coronavirus outbreak is stabilised and to donate 50 tonnes more,” added the official.

Following Daesun Distilling, Hallasan Soju, based on the resort island of Jeju, also provided 5 tonnes of ethanol to authorities on Tuesday, a company official said.

NB The best thing you can do to protect yourself against coronavirus is wash your hands frequently. Soap breaks down the lipid membrane that surrounds the coronavirus and kills it. Hand sanitisers also work as long as they’re 60% alcohol or higher.

Online shopping to set to rise

Nielsen has been monitoring how the situation will affect e-commerce.

“While it’s too soon to detect any meaningful shifts in online purchasing, we do expect online shopping to rise as people become increasingly interested in reducing their exposure to others, as the virus appears to be spread via coughs and sneezes,” the global information and measurement company said.

E-commerce may also be a factor beyond consumer purchasing. In China, for example small- and medium-size retailers are using e-commerce to keep their stores stocked, which wasn’t an option during the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak 17 years ago.

“Because shopping behavior is so much different than during the SARS outbreak, and because the government started to control the issue sooner, we think the retail impact cycle will be shorter,” said Ryan Zhou, Vice President, Consumer Packaged Goods, Nielsen China. “Store sourcing is also much different today, and online suppliers have reacted very, very quickly by offering store owners, for example, mobile applications for sourcing orders. So online has really helped suppliers react and adjust their supply systems in ways that didn’t exist during SARS.”

The impact for FMCG manufacturers and retailers is ongoing and Nielsen will be providing regular updates.

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