Consumers are stocking up on ‘pandemic pantries’

Nielsen highlights categories that could see the most supply chain pressure as behaviour shifts in response to COVID-19.

From survival bunker “pandemic pantries” to spiking supplement sales, COVID-19 fears are spreading much faster than the virus itself.

Nielsen recently looked at supply chain disruption, and the boost and decline in certain products in response to the global crisis. It found that retailers are “balancing between keeping enough of the most sought-after supplies on their shelves while making contingency plans for longer-term gaps in their product portfolios.”

Canadians, like others, have been snapping up hand sanitizer and stocking up their “pandemic pantries” with associated products like first aid kits and rubbing compounds (Nielsen’s numbers were only through the first month of the year, but it expects spikes to continue, with hand and body lotion sales also going up in response to more regular hand washing).

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According to the report, stocks of hand sanitizers and medical face masks have already dried up in some markets globally. And those that have not, could soon. Year to date surgical mask sales in San Francisco, have already topped 2019 figures.

Public health organizations have said that masks should only be used by frontline health workers and those that are already sick in order to prevent the spread of disease. In addition, regular hand washing and surface cleaning is also recommended, with hand sanitzers and other disinfectants to be used only in cases where that is not possible. It has also recommended stocking up on shelf-stable food and medications, so those who are already sick do not have to leave the home and risk spreading disease further.

Nielsen has yet to release more up-to-date or detailed numbers for the Canadian market, but trends in the U.S. offer a clue about where consumer behaviour in Canada may be headed. Since consumers of hand sanitizer are, for example, 29% more likely than the average American to purchase disposable diapers, manufacturers of adjacent product categories will also need to be prepared.

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There are also changes in the grocery aisles as well. In the U.S., shelf-stable CPG brands are seeing an uptick, and the percentage unit growth of oat milk, for example, is skyrocketing at 280.5% over the span of a single week in February, with items like energy drinks, supplements and bath and shower wipes also highly sought after. The report says frozen food manufacturers will benefit from short term shifts in buying, at the expense of fresh produce producers.

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Regan Leggett, executive director of Nielsen Global Intelligence, says intensified demand from consumers will require manufacturers, retailers and other related industry players to clearly communicate why their products and supply chains should be trusted. Leggett cites his organization’s premiumization study that shows that the product benefit consumers were most willing to pay a premium for were those with high quality assurances and verifiable safety standards.