Britain starts to panic:

A food policy expert has warned a food disaster could be imminent unless the Government implements rationing. Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University in London, has written a letter to Boris Johnson asking him to ‘initiate a health-based food rationing scheme to see the country through this crisis’.
He wrote to the Prime Minister ‘out of immediate concern about the emerging food crisis’ and in the letter described public messaging about food supply as ‘weak and unconvincing’.
His warning comes after shoppers across the country have been met with empty shelves as panic-buying takes hold.

Back when I was running a now-defunct supermarket chain’s loyalty program in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Hampshire (Grand Union, if anyone out there remembers them), we had a common problem with “hot” items.

Often, our buyers got such good deals from manufacturers from bulk orders that our shelf retail prices were better than the wholesale price offered by distributors to local grocery stores and bodegas.  So the small-store owners would descend on our supermarkets and buy up all the sale items, to resell them in their own stores.  Nothing wrong with that, of course — except that it took stock away from our “regular” loyal customers, who typically accounted for 70% of total sales and close to 90% of gross profit.

So I put an end to all that.  Whenever the buyers told me about their hot price discounts (which they had to, as I was also in charge of Advertising), I would do two things:  make the low price available to loyalty card holders only, and then limit the number of items at that price to two or three per day per card.  Result:  we sold the same amount of product, only it was spread across a larger number of customers.

And I designed a sub-system for item purchase limits that automatically instituted the policy whenever the daily sales rate started accelerating past a certain velocity.  So if there were storm warnings and people started to stock up on, say, batteries, the in-store stock was quite- or nearly sufficient and would-be profiteers couldn’t play their reindeer games.

I did all this, by the way, back in the mid-1990s, so it’s not like it’s a new situation.

As I look now at the panic-buying of toilet paper and hand sanitizers, and the resulting empty shelves thereof, I can’t help wondering why all grocery stores haven’t been doing that now.  I know that not all chains (Wal-Mart especially) have loyalty programs, but most of the big ones do.  Doesn’t say much for their planning, does it?

And by the way, there’s also an answer for chains who don’t  have loyalty programs:  just institute price escalation (instead of -reduction) for multiple purchases:  first two items, $1.99 each, third or more items, $8.99 each.  With today’s technology, the software change should take about an hour to implement.

Food logistics is not something government should get involved in, despite the frantic appeals of “food policy” professors.


  1. “Food logistics is not something government should get involved in, despite the frantic appeals of “food policy” professors.”
    I can name a lot of other things government shouldn’t get involved in. If you have a spare roll of TP, I’ll start listing them.

  2. Wow – Grand Union. That set me up for an attack of early morning nostalgia. Now I have their advertising jingle from 50 years ago playing in my head. “Its the Grand Union of all good things…” Hearing that ad every 5 minutes on my old AM radio got to be tedious but it did what advertising is supposed to do by making you remember the brand. I recall a bunch of the old now defunct regional and national supermarket chains – A& P (the great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company), Acme, and Giant among others. I stocked shelves and drove a cash register at a Shop Rite while I was in high school. Non union, minimum wage (around $1.25 an hour of I remember correctly), no insurance, pre OSHA. The job bought movie tickets and put gas in my little Honda 160 until I finished school and went into full time work in the South China Sea. I think that the lineage of the old Shop Rite stores is still there but the company has changed names and been bought out a half dozen times since those far off days.

    Anyway I note with no surprise that the British professor of food policy wants to push “health based” rationing. The government will make you eat tofu and kale, for your own good of course. It’s interesting how the people who push individual freedom for legalized drugs, the choice of 75 sexual orientations, and all manner of offense to decency are the first to tell people what to eat and drink, how to talk and what to think.

    Remember Soylent Green is people.

  3. Yes, there’s been panic buying over here, but people seem to forget that more people at home means more demand at home. People are eating and drinking at home and not at school or the works canteen or the café or the club or wherever. And yes, some people are having to shit at home instead of at work. Some supermarkets have realised this; others have not. Case in point: I went shopping for bread & a few other bits yesterday. I usually shop at Sainsbury’s. They did not have the bread I usually buy in stock, and were out of stock of quite a few things (yes, including TP), so I went across the road to Asda (owned by Walmart) whose shelves were decently stocked. Including TP.

    Do I really need to elaborate?

  4. It suddenly occurs to me how well named your blog is.

    Oh well, lolly-gagging about the house so much is helping our Gross National Wit. One of my nephews, whom I always thought a dullard, said yesterday: “Never before have so many done so much by doing so little”.

  5. Kim, you could make a lot of money off of this! Call all the big chains and claim discrimination. You’re an African American whose plan will potentially save lives, but the business world is ignoring it. They must be racist!!! It’s gold, I tell you!!!!

    1. And then he goes in for “the sell”, and like from that government apparatchik of long ago comes the cry of disbelief: You’re not an African-American, you’re White.
      And all the passports and birth certificates in the world will not convince them otherwise.

      1. Do everything by Email and intermediary because of Coronavirus hysteria. The Leftists will understand completely.
        And if one can identify as a different sex, why not race? That’s discriminatory in itself.

  6. “I know that not all chains (Wal-Mart especially) have loyalty programs, but most of the big ones do. ”

    You don’t need those. I was at WalMart last night. They had a sign on the register that said “please limit yourself to one of a given item” but they weren’t enforcing it. I bought a week’s worth of a frozen item for breakfast that there were plenty of with not a peep from the cashier, so it wasn’t doing much good–but they COULD have been enforcing it. And like you said, going forward it would make a lot of sense to start anti-hoarding measures as soon as you detect a run on something.

    As for your other idea about raising price, here’s an anecdote: two or three years ago, people buying video cards for games ran into a problem: people were buying them up in bulk to mine BItcoin (if you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it, that doesn’t affect the story) meaning you couldn’t get one most of the time. There’s a chain of stores that sells computer hardware called Micro Center (if you need computer hardware and one is local, they’re a great place to get stuff), and they have one here in Dallas. When they started getting cards in they put up signs: one or two cards for, say, $400 each, or whatever the regular price was, and the third one was $10,000.

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