Andrew Burke-Stevenson

Store emmployee Michael Kinnavy is noticing an alarming rate of toilet paper purchases at Kramer Foods in Hinsdale in response to rising COVID-19 cases.

Panic purchasing, sanitary product sales: what to expect for the future of COVID-19

January 15, 2021

Rising COVID-19 cases may result in panic purchasing again

In March 2020, seeing a Costco checkout line wrap two times around the store was common. The shelves of fresh produce and essential products had been emptied by other customers. The toilet paper shortages and hoarders became punchlines to jokes about panic purchasing, but became a stark reality when one entered a store and saw the cleaning supply section cleared.

Even with the announcement of a vaccine, COVID-19 cases continue to rise, and there is a possibility that panic purchasing will ensue. Even now, employees are noticing a shortage of essential products. 

The first wave of stockpiling in the spring was driven by the uncertainty of the future. 

Chicago resident Susie Korhorn said, “I started getting panicky when I was just regular shopping, and I noticed that the shelves were getting scarce on my everyday things.” 

Mrs. Korhorn stocked up on essentials: toilet paper, cleaning supplies, bottled water and non-perishable food items.

Similarly, in late February 2020, Colorado resident Tim Hopkins stocked up on 30 gallons of water, cases of vegetables and extra propane. He said he was one of the first to do so, citing that the bleak newscasts at the time drove him and his family to stockpile in case of an emergency.

The toilet paper was the number one thing. Cleaning supplies got wiped out, canned food, soup, everything. The store was empty, and it was pretty amazing.

— Michael Kinnavy

Store employee Michael Kinnavy of Kramer Foods in Hinsdale corroborated the stockpiling narrative in the spring. 

He added, “The toilet paper was the number one thing. Cleaning supplies got wiped out, canned food, soup, everything. The store was empty, and it was pretty amazing.” 

Mr. Kinnavy has already noticed toilet paper coming off the shelves again at an alarming rate. As a result, he had to reinstate a limit on toilet paper purchases at his store.

Mr. Kinnavy’s predicament is already showing that in the face of a COVID-19 resurgence this winter, past panic purchasers may choose to stockpile again given the possibility of a shortage of essential products. Mrs. Korhorn and Mr. Hopkins believe they would stockpile again. Mr. Hopkins said he already stockpiled before the 2020 election results came out in fear of political turmoil. 

Regarding the effects of panic purchasing, Professor Constantine Yannelis of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business said, “Supply chains are not set up to accommodate everyone buying a six-month-supply at once. This panic can feed upon itself. If people go to the store and see empty shelves, it’s truly unnerving.” 

Even so, he remains confident that the vaccine will encourage less stockpiling.  

“The most important thing in terms of preventing panic buying is to manage people’s expectations and to let people know that the supply chain is going to be maintained,” Professor Yannelis said.

The haste in which the vaccine has been produced has the potential to cause waves of panic in Americans, easily escalating many into panic purchasing behaviors. Everyone wants to protect their families and secure their well-being by stockpiling resources, but that behavior, if undertaken by many, can easily lead to another shortage of essential supplies. 


Strong sales of sanitizing products will continue even after COVID-19 pandemic

As grocery stores bustle with people throughout the day, with lines stretching out the door, workers sanitizing carts and mandatory mask usage, they still operate virtually the same way they did before COVID-19. Individuals circle through the produce section, the bakery and the butcher picking up their weekly groceries as routine. But before they check out, shoppers make one last stop where they usually would not: the health and beauty section. Before heading to the checkout lanes to pay, a mom picks up a six-pack of mini-hand sanitizers. An older man grabs a pack of face masks and latex gloves. Others stock up on cold and flu medicine, while some grab large packs of soap.

Hand sanitizers and personal protective equipment (PPE) are now widely accessible to Americans after months of shortages, allowing millions of people to add these items to their weekly shopping lists and in the process changing the response to future health crises.

Products like hand sanitizer, soap, flu medicine and some PPE have always been accessible to some extent, but after the country went into lockdown in early March, the supply of such products did not meet the increased demand. As a result, many people panicked and bought those products until they were out of stock. 

Kate Truscello, a teacher at the Laboratory Schools, said that at the beginning of lockdown she bought lots of nonperishable food, hand sanitizer and facemasks.

Manufacturers of PPE immediately began to increase production to meet the new demand. As a result, IBIS World, an industrial market research company, reports that the revenue of the PPE manufacturing market in the United States has grown by 10.6% or half a billion dollars in 2020 alone. 

These shopping habits reflect a new way of life. In almost every public location, people are wearing a face covering. Despite the CDC recommending a minimum of mask use, people also wear gloves, goggles and face shields. After leaving public places, people often will put hand sanitizer on. All of these practices were highly uncommon just a few months ago, and now seem commonplace.

Ms. Truscello said a new habit she adapted is keeping “a mini bottle of hand sanitizer in any place where [she] might need it.”

I think when I’m feeling sick I will be more inclined to wear a mask. If a little piece of cloth can help prevent my loved ones from getting sick, I’ll wear it.

— Kate Truscello

This begs a question of what health habits will be like in a post-COVID-19 world. It seems like the public will be much more receptive to health practices after experiencing a pandemic and learning about the benefits of preventive measures against contagious diseases. 

“I think when I’m feeling sick I will be more inclined to wear a mask. If a little piece of cloth can help prevent my loved ones from getting sick, I’ll wear it,” Ms. Truscello said.

As COVID-19 slowly leaves the public mind space, individuals will keep buying hand sanitizer alongside their bread, masks along with their cereal and gloves with their milk to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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