Fears about a worsening coronavirus outbreak have led shoppers in the U.S. and other hard-hit countries to begin stocking up on supplies to fill “pandemic pantries,” a new report from Nielsen suggests.
Sales of highly sought-after hand sanitizers have risen 73% in dollar value in the four weeks ending Feb. 22, compared to the same period in 2019, Nielsen says. Similarly, medical masks sales spiked 319%, aerosol disinfectants rose 47% and thermometers increased 32%.
Among food goods with skyrocketing sales: Oat milk. Sales of the milk alternative rose 305% in the week ending Feb. 22.
“Consumers around the world are actively stockpiling emergency supplies as concerns grow that the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) could become a worldwide pandemic,” reads the report entitled, “Nielsen Investigation: ‘Pandemic Pantries’ Pressure Supply Chain Amid COVID-19 Fears.”
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Nielsen tracked “significant spikes in the hoarding of emergency supplies” in the U.S., China, and Italy.
The repercussions could be severe. The World Health Organization said Wednesday panic buying and hoarding have contributed to a global shortage of face masks, which puts health care workers at risk.
Store shelves in Taiwan, China and Japan have been emptied of hand sanitizer, toilet paper, bleach, and cleaning pads, and the U.S. is seeing similar patterns. At the same time, some sellers have begun to hike prices of desired products to gouge buyers. Amazon.com, eBay and Walmart have all said they are taking action to stop price gouging.
The demand is out there. Nielsen’s report found sales of medical face masks in San Francisco drug stores are up 541% over a year ago and so far in 2020 have already surpassed that of the entire 2019 year. Sales of medical face masks in Los Angeles drug stores rose 340%, Nielsen says.
Sales of household maintenance masks are skyrocketing nationwide, too, up 262% over the previous month. “Stocks of hand sanitizers and medical face masks have already dried up in some markets, with no clear indication of when supplies will be replenished,” Nielsen said.
The panic buying “ripple effect” is going beyond emergency items such as canned goods, flour, sugar and bottled water, to other non-food essentials such as vitamins, fruit snacks and first aid kits, says the report from Nielsen’s consumer goods and retail research division.
Sales of dried beans rose 10.1%, while frozen fruit sales were up 7% in the week ending Feb. 22, the report says.
Nielsen research found that in Vietnam, 45% of consumers surveyed say they have increased what they’re stocking at home and 25% are buying more online.
“Beyond health preparedness, U.S. consumers aren’t waiting until it’s too late to stock up on shelf-stable essentials, which parallels what we’ve seen in other regions,” the report says. “We do expect online shopping to rise as people become increasingly interested in reducing their exposure to others, as the virus appears to be spread via coughs and sneezes.”
Other products beginning to see sales increases include air cleaners and air purifiers, sales of which rose 3% in the week ending Feb. 22.
The next possible product shortage? Hand and body lotion. “Simply because an increased focus on hand washing and disinfecting will have a negative effect on skin,” Nielsen says.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.