From Rationing to Donating: the Fate of Stockpiled Food

Last week we identified which categories were expandable, based on whether consumers were using more of the products they have been stockpiling. For example, we discovered that whilst 45% of consumers had stock-piled tinned grocery items, only a quarter were consuming this category more since lockdown, suggesting a significant surplus building in cupboards. Conversely, increased purchasing of impulse categories tended to lead to greater consumption, implying expandability.  

Following the initial panic-buying - where one in five shoppers admitted buying more than usual simply because everybody else was doing so - stock levels in stores have significantly improved, as our lives in lockdown become a new normal rather than a scary unknown. With this in mind, this week we want to understand what will happen to all this surplus food, which has been carefully stacked at the back of our cupboards and freezers.

HIM MCA Channel Pulse tells us that many consumers (37%) are looking to ration their stockpiled food. This sensible approach to surplus ingredients is worth applauding, but we must remember to take it with a pinch of salt! These good intentions may turn out to be wishful thinking when consumers get bored of eating pasta every Monday and Thursday and still have bags of fusilli come October.

Three in ten consumers are taking a more cautious attitude, as they look to save their stockpiled goods in case they have to self-isolate. Meanwhile 28% are thinking more long-term and are looking to save stocks in case they’re not able to get these products in the future. Concerns regarding future stock levels are strongest amongst older generations, with 37% of 65-74 year olds saving their supplies in case they aren’t able to get those products in the future.

Every cloud has a silver lining and these unprecedented times have led to heart-warming examples of communities coming together, caring for one another or finally getting to know elderly neighbours. Almost a quarter of shoppers are looking to share their stock-piled food with others, which may be in response to impactful media coverage on stockpiling shoppers threatening food supply for more vulnerable members of the community, including food banks.

Women and younger consumers are more likely to be in this charitable group, while older consumers are more likely to be vulnerable themselves and therefore at the receiving end of charitable gestures. Those home schooling are perhaps using this as content for a lesson in good deeds, as households with children also over-index on this approach to stock-piled ingredients. Many retailers are tapping into this altruism by making food-bank donation areas more prominent in local convenience stores and supermarkets at this difficult time.

The least popular response to excess food supplies is to consume more food than normal, the solution adopted by 13% of shoppers in our study. With 19% agreement, younger consumers are mostly likely to take this approach. Households with children also over-index on this option, particularly larger families – perhaps opting to batch cook dishes to use up over-stocked ingredients.

Retailers – and indeed the government – have been encouraging us to only buy what we need and even if we have to queue to get in, it feels as if store supply levels are normalising. Of course, having been faced with empty shelves recently, many shoppers are continuing to buy more than they would normally, but let’s hope it is the food banks and vulnerable neighbours that benefit rather than an increasing volume of food waste.


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