What Americans Bought to Prepare for the Pandemic

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It’s human nature (and makes good sense) to stock up on necessities as natural disasters like hurricanes or blizzards approach. It’s hardly surprising, then, that people also did exactly that as the pandemic approached, in preparation for possible quarantines or lockdowns.

What did people buy? The coupon-tracking site Coupon Follow surveyed about a thousand consumers for a report,COVID-19 Preparation Spending Behavior.”

Surveyors recorded what specific items respondents bought the most and how many buyers purchased more of those items than usual. In general, they found that consumers purchased an average of 2.5 weeks’ worth of supplies pre-pandemic in the course of an average of three shopping trips. 

Some 17% of respondents said in retrospect that they had bought too much, and 50% added that they had spent too much money on what they bought. This isn’t surprising as it’s difficult to know how to buy food for a 14-day quarantine.

The survey also found differences in generational shopping patterns: The number one item baby boomers and Gen Xers purchased was toilet paper, while millennials’ shopping list was headed up by eggs. Coffee was the fifth most often purchased item by boomers, but it didn’t make the top 10 for the other two groups. 

The only generation that reported buying junk food among its top 10 purchases was millennials. Fresh produce was missing from all three top-10 lists, perhaps because it isn’t easy to know how to store produce properly during a pandemic.

Also reflecting early spending trends, Time reported on a Nielsen study comparing total U.S. sales of numerous food and health or household products for the week ending March 14 of this year with sales of the same items over the same period in 2019. The categories are broken down differently from those in the Coupon Follow study in many cases, and track spending only for a specific period of time.

It’s impossible, then, to meld the results of the two studies, but 24/7 Tempo used the data from both to assemble a list of 10 food items and 10 health or household products that were among the top purchases people made in anticipation of a pandemic lockdown.