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Is panic buying coming to a Calgary grocery store near you?

Empty shelves, doom and gloom on the news, and the fear of being left empty-handed; it’s enough to drive someone to panic buy. 

As images of barren shelves sweep across the Okanagan because of the floods and resulting supply chain issues, the risk of Calgarians barreling into grocery stores to panic buy is possible, according to Mount Royal University School of Business marketing professor Neil Brigden. 

It’s not recommended though, and Brigden says patience will go a long way right now to avoid the domino effect of panic buying. 

“It’s hard for all of us not to feel a little anxious if we see store shelves without much on it, or we hear about shortages of products,” he explains. “But we all have to keep in mind that loading up on things we don’t actually need only makes the problem worse for everyone else.”

An empty produce section in Kamloops. 📷 Submitted by Jeremy

We’ve been through this before 

Brigden points to the beginning of the pandemic when retailers were running out of toilet paper. 

“It wasn’t because of a supply issue, it was because some people saw only a few units on the shelf or other people rushing to buy toilet paper. And there’s some somewhat logical reasons for that,” he says. 

“When we see that something’s in short supply, we perceive it as being more valuable. And when it seems like we might not be able to buy a particular product, we can exhibit something called reactance.” 

The result of reactance is that people are tempted to buy something that they don’t need because their ability to do so seems limited. 

“Shoppers are going to be influenced by what they see others doing. So if we see a crowd of people panic buying, it’s hard not to think that we need to do the same thing,” he says, adding people should be patient and flexible in their food choices. 

“It’s hard to be rational in that social environment.”

An empty bread section in Penticton. 📷 Submitted by Tamara

But do we need to be worried about supply chain issues? 

Since the devastating floods occurred in BC earlier this week, Vancouver has been cut off from the rest of Canada due to flooding and landslides collapsing roads. 

Hundreds of trucks hauling food and goods have been at a standstill and there is no word yet on when the roads will be passable again. 

It’s normal to feel concerned, but Gerry Duffy, a supply chain management instructor with SAIT’s School of Business, says Alberta retailers and consumers should be able to navigate these challenges with some confidence. 

“The logistics and supply chain professionals in all of these organizations, they’re operationally focused and they’re going to be reacting in an agile way to the situation that they encounter,” he says.

“There will be many people working many hours trying to figure out: ‘OK, so that route is closed and that route was closed, how do we get this on the marketplace.’ And they will be creative in what they do in trying to make sure that they can continue selling their products.”

An empty bread section in Kamloops. 📷 Submitted by Jeremy

It’s not all doom and gloom 

Duffy says while it’s more expensive, goods can also be transported by air — and they can also be routed from eastern Canada and the US. 

He says Alberta retailers are likely already well-prepared for the impending holiday season starting with Black Friday next week and then Christmas. 

“The reality is for a lot of the retailers out there who are dealing with consumer packaged goods, they would have probably got the majority of their products in their distribution centres, and then distributed them to their stores already,” Duffy says, adding there’s always a concern when the logistics chain breaks but this should be a temporary issue. 

From the consumer point of view, Duffy says it should only be a short-term challenge. 

“For certain commodities, we might see a dip in the availability, but that should rectify itself fairly quickly.” 

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