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Coronavirus fears drive Americans to stockpile groceries, medication

Ann Schmidt

As fears of the coronavirus outbreak continue to mount, Americans are stocking up on non-perishables, leaving retailers across the country with empty shelves, according to one report.

On Friday, DailyMail.com reported that people have been posting pictures on social media either of empty shelves in grocery stores and pharmacies or of their own fully-stocked pantries.

According to the website, people have been buying out all the cough, cold and flu medicines as well as vaporizers, masks and thermometers.

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People have also been stocking up on supplies like paper towels, toilet paper and non-perishable goods, like canned and dry foods or bottled water.

“Supermarkets are on the front lines of emergency response both in preparation for an impending disaster and as one of the primary operations that must be up and running for a community to be able to recover after a disaster strikes,” a spokesperson from the National Grocers Association told FOX Business in an emailed statement. “While emergency situations can be fluid, grocers make contingency plans ahead of time, which involves coordination with their many vendors throughout the supply chain, especially those that provide items people tend to stock up on, such as milk, eggs, bread, and water."

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Even as grocery stores are helping Americans prepare for an outbreak in the country, some analysts are worried if the stores themselves will maintain their stock.

Wells Fargo analysts told MarketWatch that grocery store shelves could fully be emptied by mid-April. The analysts also said that bigger chains including Target and Walmart are at higher risk.

“It’s worth noting that big-box players like Target and Walmart could be the first to experience out-of-stock issues, as they are more heavily dependent on a shorter-lead-time replenishment model,” Wells Fargo said, according to MarketWatch.

The retail industry in general could be affected overall, according to Cowen analysts.

“Declining consumer confidence, potentially severe retail-traffic declines, and temporary store closures are evolving risk factors that depend on uncertain variables like the geographic spread of the virus and the timing of containment/eradication solutions,” Cowen wrote in a note this week.

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A recent survey by Coresight Research also indicated that malls could be “disproportionately” affected by the coronavirus if the outbreak gets worse.

Among people who said they would change their habits if the outbreak gets worse, about 75 percent said they expected to avoid malls and shopping centers.

As of Friday evening, there are a total of 62 confirmed cases of the virus in the United States, with seven recoveries, according to Johns Hopkins.

Globally, there have been 84,124 confirmed cases, with 2,867 deaths and 36,738 recoveries.

Even as groceries and non-perishable foods are being stockpiled, face masks are another specific item that people are amassing.

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In January, a shortage of masks led Honeywell and 3M to ramp up production, despite the fact that officials have warned that wearing a mask doesn’t necessarily protect people from the virus.

On Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told a Senate subcommittee that the United States doesn’t have enough facemasks or ventilators stockpiled in order to be able to deal with the spread of the coronavirus.

This report contains material from previous FOX Business stories.

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