At the beginning of the pandemic, panic shopping made headlines as the number of COVID-19 cases increased. While frenzied fighting over toilet paper and hoarding are not healthy behaviors, this was not unfounded terror if you flash forward a few months to meatpacking plants closing down due to virus spread. Even before that, COVID-19 disrupted our food supply chain. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and household cleaning products were completely unavailable. Shelf-stable pantry foods like dry beans, pasta, canned goods, and frozen products went next. Hoarding food and supplies became a typical headline.
When food shelves emptied out, it signaled to people we interviewed that "shit was real now." A majority of in-store grocery shopping shifted online. Online ordering quickly became unreliable, with many orders only partly fulfilled. UPS, Amazon, and other mail-order options had significant delays stemming from the colossal demand. Online ordering slots were hard to get, and often a week out.
When they couldn't find the things they wanted in person or online from the usual big box stores, people started investigating alternative grocery options. Local farms, CSAs, frozen food companies like Omaha Steaks
, and artisanal food sites like Sea to Table
, Riviera Seafood Club
, Alderspring Ranch
(to name a few) saw a jump in sales. Food sold directly from the farm to the consumer became a popular solution for both families and farmers who needed to offload produce.
Grocery stores remained open, but became more inconvenient with mandated changes like limiting the number of people allowed in at one time. Lines formed in front of stores, or in some cases, around the block. Neighbors started asking each other if they needed anything picked up. Some people began planning their own food security measures by buying out seed catalogs and planting gardens.