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Snowmageddon… did you stockpile food?

We’re used to roads and railways grinding to a halt at the faintest whiff of snow – but empty supermarket shelves are a rare sight. Our guest, Hannah Jolliffe, asks: did you run out of supplies during the snowy spell, or are you a savvy stockpiler?

The messages started coming through last Friday on my street’s WhatsApp group: ‘Help! No milk in any local shops… does anyone have half a pint we can borrow?’.

For the next few days, our street was frantically sharing supplies – especially fresh bread and milk, which seemed to suddenly be like gold dust.

Empty supermarket shelves

After a few days of ‘making do’, I finally ventured to the supermarket on Monday night to stock up. The roads had been clear in my local area for a couple of days at this point, so I figured supermarkets must be back to normal by now.

Apparently not. While the fruit and vegetable aisles had something to offer, there wasn’t so much as a bread roll to be had – the same for milk and lots of other dairy items. Even the freezer section looked like it hadn’t been replenished for a week. Shoppers were muttering curses to themselves as they pushed very empty trolleys around and peered at the empty supermarket shelves.

Speaking to friends, it sounds like online shopping has taken a knock too. One friend, who usually shops online, said that her usual supermarket has stopped taking online orders – and she couldn’t even book a delivery slot for the future.

Should we all be stockpiling?

Admittedly, this was a much more severe case of snow than we are used to, but I’m surprised at how quickly our supply chain has been so badly affected.

I’m normally one to scoff at too much forward-planning, but this experience has forced me to stop and take note. Is this a lesson that we should all be stockpiling in case of a real emergency?

And, according to reports online and in social media, the rest of the country is experiencing similar situations. One angry shopper posted an image of a Londis receipt showing that they increased the price of bread to £3 a loaf. Many others posted pictures of empty supermarket shelves.

Did you run out of supplies?

I’m in the lucky position of having lots of great local shops – and ironically, supplies seemed to get to them much more easily than to the major supermarkets. But not everyone can rely on local shops and neighbours, and I wonder how people have managed in the past week in different parts of the country?

This is a guest contribution by Hannah Jolliffe. All views expressed here are Hannah’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.

What’s it been like in your area? Were you prepared with food supplies or have you been caught short by empty shelves syndrome? Will you be stockpiling for emergencies like this in future?

Do you stockpile food in case of emergencies?

Yes, I always have extra food in the freezer and cupboards (50%, 264 Votes)

Never - I manage as I go (27%, 139 Votes)

Only when it looks like I need to (23%, 118 Votes)

No, but I plan to start after snowmageddon! (1%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 524

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The best thing to ensure panic buying of food is for the media to run stories on panic buying of food. Yes – for a few days our local Coop ran out of greens, but then the roads were blocked at times, so we expected it. And we do have an enormous freezer in the dungeon which plays its part when the weather sets in.

Remember, the supermarket stock replenishment model is based on delivery on demand, now, so that the lorries clog the roads 24/7 and when there’s any sort of disruptive weather things go wrong.

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When the poor weather set in I picked up a little extra food from the supermarket, cooked some of it and put it in the freezer. I bought some UHT milk, more fruit than usual and some extra flour for bread, but otherwise little more than usual. I’m glad I did not panic buy.

I have not been near a supermarket since last November as I can almost guarantee I will go down with a virus 3 days later. I do however keep up to date with the weather forecast and now shop online every 2/3 weeks during the cold winter months and stock up with freezer food, bread and long life milk in case of bad weather. I freeze fresh milk for drinks and keep a supply of LL milk in case I run out of fresh (it makes nice porridge). The village shop supplies anything I forget to order online, although choice is more limited but I don’t find that a problem. I wrap up and take myself off for a walk when the weather is not too inclement and often stop and chat to someone enroute or sit on a bench by the river and meditate a little to refresh my mind in the present moment.

The 3 day freak Beast from the East was pretty punishing and much worse for those who had to negotiate the road and rail systems who understandably, are reluctant to invest in an extreme event that only occurs about once every 5 years or so in this country, but we are now enjoying more reliable and accurate satellite assisted weather forecasts which enables us to plan ahead for any eventuality.

Most survived, but a few unfortunately didn’t but we witnessed human nature at its very best with people leaving their homes armed with sandwiches a drinks for stranded motorists stuck on snow bound motorways and local farmers and 4 x 4 owners braving the icy conditions to help out where needed.

A couple of days and miraculously, everything was more or less back to normal as if, just like a bad dream, it had never happened. But the kids did have a couple of days off school and took advantage of free trips on home made sledges down slippery snow covered slopes, some coming to grief before reaching the bottom with maybe just a few bruises. Wonderful days in which to relive and remember the days when I used to be able to do likewise 🙂

A little snow forecast and the media suggests it is time for everyone to panic and many always do what the media says you have to do this time buy all the food you could possibly need to last you for months and many did just that I have enough food ” which will keep ” stored to last me for a long time Cannot folk last without “fresh ” food for a few days the media thinks you can’t Media??

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Because they are “happy” duncan. Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Finland are among the top happiest countries in the world.
It is the “continually” bit that separates the UK from Scandinavia. If you regularly have to handle arctic weather it pays to equip for it. When we get it so rarely (in most parts anyway) then it would be largely a waste of money. We do survive and we haven’t collapsed. Check out 1963 for the bulldog spirit.

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I note the frequent mention of lack of bread. Seems many people could usefully learn to make bread. And without resorting to breadmakers. And do it whilst they have access to the internet in case that gets knocked out in the next disaster.

If you have not all the ingredients for bread you ought to have these ingredients for 30 minutes to a chapati..
450g/1 lb wholemeal plain flour
1 tsp salt
250ml/9 fl oz cold water
butter for spreading, optional

The UK supply chain would break down if the information infrastructure was deliberately attacked. Think the KFC fiasco but many many times worse.

I note freezing milk – something we have never done – perhaps Beryl can explain how and the drawbacks further.

Put milk in the plastic bottle in the freezer. It works. I remember frozen milk in 1963 when it was left on the doorstep and the foil top was pushed up an inch or two as the contents froze. And the holes in milk bottle tops when the birds fancied the cream. i wonder how they first devised, then passed on, that technique?

Have we become far too dependent upon convenience? Forgotten some of the basics needed to be independent? On a sombre note, I am amazed at the way refugees live and just about survive, for example. It is a very sad and unpleasant world where this is allowed to happen.

That was when milk had fat-content : )

I do distinctly remember that but then it was thawed and used in a day or so. I could investigate it myself as to length of time and any differences due to fat content or type of plastic bottle …

This is the kind of stuff I wish we had CAWiki for. ANy subject quick search read an authoritative answer [dated naturally]. : )

We drink oat milk and as supplies of our favourites tend to be erratic, usually have about 2 months supply, even more if it they are on special offer.

Assuming we have electricity, we can make bread. There are enough other store cupboard and freezer ingredients to survive at least a few weeks.

Birds can be quite enterprising. We have pheasants that peck at the back door when they want feeding, and blue tits tap at the window beside my computer when their feeder is empty.

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Doing a little routine shopping this morning and the shelves were half empty. Asking why at the check out, I was told that it was due to panic buying. I remain surprised that it has taken so long to re-stock supplies. It seems as though the supply chain is less efficient than I believed it to be. I dread to think of the food wastage that will occur next. I do hope those who panic bought did so with an eye on storage and future use.

Adrian says:
8 March 2018

Here in Cheddar our shops had empty shelves(some still do) which is ridiculous for this area when we have hardly any snow and when we do it never lasts for more than 3 days.the panic buying was stupid.

I think a major problem for the supermarkets is that they have centralised their warehousing and distribution in massive out-of-town locations – often in the wilds of nowhere – so staff and delivery vehicles bringing in supplies from manufacturers and wholesalers could not reach them. Many imported goods and produce were probably held up at their point of arrival in the UK. I expect there will be a lot of waste as products reached their use-by date. I must admit I was somewhat surprised that even large stores containing an in-store bakery could not meet the demand for bread and I suspect that is because much of the bread and rolls is prepared off-site and just oven-heated in small quantities. The mainstream bread seems to be wrapped loaves from national bakery companies which suffer the same problem of remote locations, reliance on large transport operations, and staff having to make long journeys to work.

We tend to take advantage of the long shelf-life of filtered milk and always have plenty in hand [or in the fridge to be more accurate], and there is always a loaf or two in the freezer. Newspapers like the “Daily Express” have been warning about extreme weather every other day for weeks in advance and the population did take precautions by stocking-up. The major stores failed to plan ahead as their just-in-time replenishment system does not have the capacity to shift large volumes of additional supplies even if they are available. Never mind, though, there were thousands of Mother’s Day “treats” and Easter Eggs in stock. I noticed in Sainsbury’s a large sales area given over to children’s fancy dress items; I don’t recollect seeing those kinds of essentials in previous years so that was a smart move. There seemed to be a national toboggan shortage this time around and I think the Army should have been called in earlier to helicopter additional supplies in from strategic reserves.

Our local supermarket didn’t have any problems during the snowfall – and it’s worth noting it’s one of two major supermarkets within a 12 miles radius, so has a lot of customers. We did see a shortage of products over the weekend, once the snow began to disappear.

I imagine this may have been due to delivery issues 🚛🚛🚛