What Food To Store For An Emergency — According To Statistics And Shoppers

By Jen Evansy / April 15, 2020

What did the pandemic stockpiling revealed to us about our food choices? Here are some interesting statistics and shopper's own experience of the most popular foods to store during an emergency. Was it panic buying, or a rational stocking up of necessities?

I recently walked into my local shop for a bottle of wine and came out, unexpectedly clutching 24 cans of macaroni and cheese. #panicshopping

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a woman stocking up on food

Since the news of the severe pandemic became imminent on March 11, 2020, and national lockdowns were introduced around the world, people gravely started to evaluate their food purchasing decisions.

Led by an increased panic and concern, grocery shopping shifted toward shelf-stable and frozen food options.

Although the governments were telling people not to panic-buy, many were doing the opposite and stripped shelves bare of essentials.

Many shelf-stable grocery lines such as pasta, grains, tinned food, and powdered milk products were some of the first ones to sell out. Still, bizarrely many shops also run out of some rather unexpected food items.

So let's take a look at what food items people were stocking up on and if their choices were perhaps somewhat irrational.

Top Panic-Buying Foods According To The Statistics

empty supermarket shelves

According to Nielsen global market research and data, here is the difference in sales in the United States between the week ending March 14, 2019, and the week ending March 14, 2020. [1]

  1. Oat milk sales up by 441%
  2. Fresh meat alternatives up by 280%
  3. Powdered milk products up by 245%
  4. Dried beans up by 231%
  5. Canned meat up by 188%
  6. Rice up by 166%
  7. Pasta up by 168%
  8. Chickpeas/garbanzos up by 157%
  9. Black beans up by 150%
  10. Canned pasta up by 148%
  11. Canned meat up by 147 %
  12. Tuna up by 142%
  13. Soup up by 127%
  14. Water up by 99%
  15. Fully cooked meat alternatives up by 85%
  16. Processed meat up by 58%
  17. Fresh chicken up by 52%
  18. Milk/dairy alternatives up by 49%
  19. Fresh meat up by 48%
  20. Popcorn up by 48%
  21. Milk up by 47.5%

Popular 'Survival Foods' That Were First To Sell Out

Oat Milk

In March, oat milk sales were up by 441%, which is almost ten times more than regular cows milk. And that is not because of oat milk being trendy. During a pandemic or crisis, stocking up on oat milk seems to be more of a practical choice.

The likely reason for this massive increase in sales is that this type of milk is more long-lasting than other milk products.

Unopened shelf-stable oat milk will easily last for months. It will stay edible for some time, even past the official expiry date.

The highest calorie and carbohydrate content and a pleasant creamy taste could also be the reason why oat milk has been such a popular item to stockpile. 

Pasta

Although pasta is at 7th place according to the statistics, many shoppers have reported that pasta was the first thing to fly off the shelves in their local supermarket. I am not surprised as pasta is known to be a favorite panic-buying food item.

Besides, pasta also has a very long shelf-life, it tastes good, it is easy to cook, and it is cheap. Even with a little, it will go a long way. This is why, during crises, you can expect the pasta shelf to be emptied first in many grocery stores.

If stored correctly, dried pasta products will last easily up to 2 years and well beyond its "best by" date.

But if you missed the last bag of pasta in your local supermarket, then have no fear. Pasta lovers have now found a healthier, more delicious solution to get them through the crisis. Little Known Pasta That Is Packed With Protein And Fiber

Canned Foods

Canned foods are probably the most obvious choice for emergency preparedness and survival. There is such a wide variety of canned foods to choose from. It is also a solid food, it lasts for years, and it is easy to store. You can eat a good meal and have many items contained in just one can.

Normally, canned meat is very unpopular. Most people won't touch them, and even if you do find it in some homes, they have remained practically untouched. But during a calamity, you won't find it long on supermarket shelves.

Canned foods will last for years, even after the printed expiry date. Many survival experts say that expiry date on the cans is actually completely irrelevant.

However, you should still be cautious if eating one of these, years after their official expiry date. But hopefully, the lock-down won't last that long.

Eggs

You also might be wondering why eggs are one of the fastest to disappear during panic buying. It could be because eggs are super nutritious and can also be used as an ingredient in baking.

You probably can live of eggs alone for a while. But the problem is, eggs really don't last that long, but people still buy many many dozens when panic buying.

As the recommended shelf-life for eggs is 5 weeks, if kept in the fridge, then one should really exerciser some restrain when stocking up on eggs. Unless if you are literally living off just eggs.

Here is a cool egg peeling hack that makes it so much easier to peel all these eggs, check it out here: Best Way To Peel A Hard-Boiled Egg -  Make The Shell Slip Right Off!

Snack Foods

I can completely understand people stocking up on snacks. People are worried and stressed out, and snack foods are the ultimate comfort food. They are also quite cheap, and most people are already addicted to them anyway.

As you will be staying at home most of the time, it would just seem reasonable to have something to munch on while watching Netflix.

Snack foods have always been very popular among consumers, but now we have seen a massive rise. Popcorn sales are up by 48%, pretzels by 47%, pastries by 24%, and ice cream by 23%.

This may not seem that much compare to some other food on the list, but you have to keep in mind that the snack foods sales were already very high before the pandemic. 

If you really love snacks but want to keep it healthy, then check out these: 8 Best Healthy Food Variety Tasting Sets

Fresh Fruits And Vegetables

You have probably seen these dramatic photographs of panic buying in social media were fruit and veg aisles were completely empty.

As most people were expecting that canned foods, tried pasta and hand sanitizer were in short supply, many probably did not realize that the fresh fruit and vegetable aisles were now emptying too.

Since most consumers would not just want to live on canned foods alone and needed some vital nutrients and vitamins to boost their immune system, so fresh fruits and vegetables did also have a massive jump in sales. Apples rose by 20%, bananas by 17%, papayas, and celery by 3% each, not mentioning many other fruits. 

Most fresh fruit, including berries, apples, and grapes, may last for 1-2 weeks, maybe 3 if kept in their original packaging and stored in the refrigerator. So most people, who went a bit overboard with bulk buying all the fruit, had to probably just throw them away a week later.

Again, you have probably seen these shocking pictures that are showing trash cans piled high with rotten fruit, vegetables, and bread.

Also, when it comes to vegetables, I think many people treat it as fruit and just throw them away prematurely. If stored properly, most vegetables will last for months.

Frozen Food

Frozen foods, along with canned foods, is another quite obvious choice when it comes to stocking up.

Frozen food sales have risen with frozen pizza up by 56%, prepared fish by 72%, and prepared poultry by 53%. These three alone make up half the sales of frozen foods.

I think these numbers could have been even higher. Still, fortunately, or unfortunately, most people really had to force themselves not to buy that much due to limited freezer space.

Unlike with many other foods, everyone will know that if you don't keep frozen food in the freezer, it must be eaten in a day or two, and if not, it will go rotten very fast.

So, let's just hope that electricity doesn't cut out, so you can keep it all frozen?

Other Interesting Foods That People Decided To Store For An Emergency  

choosing survive in the supermarket foods for stockpiling

Stocking up on essential food products during a crisis is not a bad idea, and I would say it is really a Survival 101. Although it should be done responsibly and people should try to be more considerate. But it is not just the essentials that people are buying up in large quantities.

Here are some more food products that have been reported to be absent from many grocery stores.

Beverages

As coffee shops and pubs close, tea and coffee sales have been on the climb as well as alcohol sales.

Corona Beer company reports that its beer sales are going up in the U.S. That claim is opposite to a Facebook post that went viral by falsely claiming that the sales have dropped because of the pandemic. [2]

Data has shown that sales for Constellation Brands, the owners of Corona Beer, went up by 39% recently, led by the Corona beer itself, up by 50%. The popularity of Corona Beer right now is self-explanatory.

Bread

The shortage of bread is a rare occurrence in the U.S and in most western counties. It is surprising for people to panic-buy bread in large quantities as it is highly perishable.

The truth about perishable items like bread is that they have a very short expiration date. Yet people are still stocking up on it.

You may argue that some people will probably freeze the bread for the long term. Still, if we take into account the statistics about frozen food sales, then freezers should be already full of other food products.

Due to the highly perishable nature of bread, nobody should really buy more than 2-3 loaves at the time. Unless you have a very large family, you are planning to make bread and butter pudding, or you got a lot of empty freezer space; you should be considerate when stocking up on bread.

For those who did buy a bit too much bread and are now faced with a pile of stale loaves, you don't necessarily have to throw them away just yet. Although stale bread is probably not that appealing, it is still edible. Exercise caution when eating it and make sure there is no mold on it.

If you have accidentally eaten a moldy bread, read my latest article here: How Soon Do I Get Sick After Eating A Moldy Bread? This Is What Happens To You...

Flour And Yeast

Flour and yeast are handy when you can't buy bread. A lot of people have also reported taken up baking to fill their time during the lockdown.

Flour and yeast also have a reasonably long shelf-life. Properly stored flour can easily last up to a year, and yeast will stay active for up to six months.

Also, if you have been using a bread maker to make your own, then stocking up on flour and yeast is a no-brainer.

Although bread machines are still readily available, many people have been snapping up bread-makers. Whether there are crises or not, a decent, reliable bread maker is always a good investment.

If you are contemplating buying a bread maker, check out how much money it will save you over a year: Find Out How Much Does a Bread Maker Cost, Literally and Figuratively

Potatoes

Retail sales for fresh potatoes, along with other fresh vegetables, have increased significantly. Although many other vegetables have now returned to the supermarket shelves, then potatoes are still in short supply in many shops. 

That is because potatoes are one of the most favorite vegetables and beloved for its adaptability and versatility for all types of recipes.

Potatoes can be cooked in a variety of ways. You can boil them, baked them, steam, roast, fry, or even microwave them. 

Potatoes also have relatively long shelf-life, probably longer than most other vegetables. When kept in a cool pantry or a fridge, potatoes can last up 3-4 months. 

However, if kept in a warm kitchen cupboard, potatoes will start to grow sprouts in a week.

Milk

Although milk sales were only up by 47.5% in the first week after the lockdown, that was enough for many shops to run out of it.

There is no need to buy six times more milk than you usually do. Milk is highly perishable, and it is an excellent place for the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms.

The panic-buying milk, like many other foods, is probably because everyone else is going crazy, and you don't want to be the one caught out.

Now, boiling all that milk can be a bit of a pain as it is quite easy to get it sticking to the bottom of the saucepan when boiling it. But don't worry, here are a few easy tips and trick you can use: 5 Easy Hacks To Boil Milk Without Sticking Or Scalding

Sauerkraut

Not sure about Germany, but here in the U.S., there seems to be no real shortage of sauerkraut yet. However, many people have reported having sauerkraut in their stockpiling shopping list.

I do think that sauerkraut is actually a good option for stocking up. Sauerkraut is not only highly nutritious and full of probiotics, but canned and stored sauerkraut will last for many months.

Now, before you are rushing out to buy some sauerkraut, there are a few important things you should know about this probiotic food: How To Choose Sauerkraut That Works - Best Brands With The Most Probiotics

Spam

People are panic-buying many food items with no real idea what they're going to do with it. 

A good example is a man who was asked why he was buying such an abundant supply of Spam. He reasoned that he does typically not buy Spam, but since the stock is running low, then he might as well get some now. Although he hasn't had Spam for so many years, at least he still remembers its taste.

It is most likely that he is not going to eat it now either, but since Spam will last up to 5 years, he can store it for quite some time before he needs to throw it away.

Olive Oil

One strange thing that completely sold out in the suburbs of Bethesda, Maryland, was virgin olive oil. It does not seem clear why people from this place choose to use this type of olive oil over all the other oils. But, at least, during the quarantine, nothing will stick to their pots and pans.

Since olive oil will last up to two years, then shops in Bethesda won't need to order much of it for a long time now.

Chef Boyardee

It has been reported that many people are stocking up on Chef Boyardee pasta. Most likely, people stock up on Chef Boyardee because it has a long shelf life. But others have said they actually really do like it or they are buying it because of childhood memories.

Like with other canned foods, Chef Boyardee is good apocalyptic food. And I guess it is not a bad idea to buy canned foods that you would actually like to eat.

Ketchup

Staff in several shops have reported that a range of many non-vital supplies like mayonnaise, HP sauce, mustard was running low. But one of the more popular items to sell out was ketchup.

One lady had to haul eight large bottles of ketchup since she cannot imagine having none in her house through the pandemic.

Condiments such as ketchup have a long shelf life, and so, it may seem like a good idea to stock up on bottles of these in your home during these times. But when you really think how long a bottle of ketchup will usually last for your family, then buying more than 2 bottles at one time is clearly overreacting.

Baked Beans

One canned good that people were scrambling to get their hands on was baked beans. The reason for this is that it has a long shelf life.

Someone from Belgium wanted to have baked beans. Unfortunately, the stock ran out. She is now hoping that during these dire times, someone from Germany will send her supplies.

If you are the one who bought up all the stock of this flatulence-inducing protein, then here is my latest article you might find helpful: Foods That Cause Gas and How To Avoid Those Embarrassing Farts 

Bananas

As I mentioned above, most fresh fruits were in short supply in many stores across the country, and those included bananas.

One lady was horrified not to find any bananas in the grocery store one day, and it was only for that item that she went there.

Now, as stockpilers are continuing to throw away food after hoarding more than they can consume, bananas were reported to be the first item that ended up in the trash can.

Pop-Tarts

Some shops have also reported the increased sale of Pop-Tarts.

Although clearly not an essential food, I can not really argue with that as pop-tars have been my guilty pleasure since I was a kid. And it seems that I am not the only one. Besides, pop-tarts require no heating, they can be used at any meal, and they last forever.

But do you need to buy 10 packs of them, that could be argued?

Canned Tuna

Despite concerns about mercury, canned tuna has been very popular among panic shoppers.

One supermarket employee was so surprised to find canned tunas completely sold out in their store just right after he fully stocked the shelves. He said that this is something that is not normal for their store.

Canned tuna, although not the most delicious, is a great lean source of protein. It is probably a good idea to keep some on-hand. But people who have stockpiled lots of it, will they ever be able to eat it? I doubt that. 

Hummus

Yes, hummus is a healthy food, but it doesn't last long in the fridge. Store-bought hummus generally only lasts 6-7 days after opening. Yet, shops have reported an increased sale, and some have even said that there was no hummus left on the shelves in their local supermarket. Maybe some shoppers know something that I don't?

Breaded Scampi Tails

As many shops did see a surge in demand for its frozen products, some supermarkets said that sales of breaded scampi tails had jumped by as much as 100% in their shops.

One of the shop managers reckoned that the sales would have been even higher only if they had been able to replenish freezers sufficiently.

I can see some reasoning behind stockpiling frozen scampi. It will easily store up to 10-12 months in the freezer, probably even longer. It is quite delicious and reasonably healthy if cooked in the air fryer. But it could have also been the case that there was just nothing else left to buy.

While preparation is a good thing, there is no need to panic-buy stuff without any solid plan or consideration. Instead of ending up with a pile of food that is unhealthy and tastes horrible, why not get something full of nutrients and has a long shelf life.

Here are 14 foods you should actually be stocking up on. Best Nutritious Foods That Last For A Long Time

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About the author

    Jen Evansy

    Nutritionists, researchers, and writers, interested in everything healthy-living related. Helping you identify the best diets, learn about food and nutrition, to help you live happier, longer and stronger.


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