Hoarding behaviour leads to shortages in Spanish supermarkets

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food shortage

MADRID – The war in Ukraine, the rise in food prices, and the transport strike has caused a run on supermarkets and petrol in Spain. For fear of scarcity, people are starting to hoard. However, for those who didn’t do that in time, (partly) empty shelves are waiting.

Since the announcement of the transport strike in Spain a few days ago, supermarkets have faced an increased influx of customers. Not only that, those who do the shopping are also stocking up.

A walk through an average supermarket already shows the result of this behaviour on Tuesday. Many boxes in the fruit and vegetable department are empty, frozen vegetables and sunflower oil are hardly available anymore. The shelves also look empty for cereal products, flour, and to a lesser extent pastries, milk, and rice.

“No shortages in the short term”

Yet supermarkets assure there is no shortage of stock and that they have the situation under control. They urge calm and deny that shortages will arise in the short term.

The president of the consumer union UCE emphasises that psychology has a “huge impact” when making the shopping list. It doesn’t take much for people to make a big impact. We all remember the empty toilet paper shelves at the start of the lockdown in Spain. Ultimately, there were never any shortages in any area at the time.

“There is no supply problem”

“There is no supply problem, so stockpiling and hoarding behaviour are not justified. It does promote higher product prices,” he warns.

The shortages that existed before the announcement of the transport strike are primarily the result of the war in Europe’s largest granary. The transport strikes that have been observed throughout Spain since Monday are making the supply of specific local products more difficult.

Social media posts increase anxiety

In many places in Spain, people started hoarding before the weekend. At that time, the truck drivers’ strike had only just been announced. Fearing an empty fridge and pantry, many ran to the store to get ahead of the empty shelves. Not realising they were in fact contributing to those empty shelves. Moreover, according to RTVE, that fear was wrongly fed by photos of empty shelves and warning audio messages on social media.

cogesa expats

In it, unnamed sources also warned of fuel shortages. This resulted in long lines at gas stations. In one audio message, a woman said a person “involved with Repsol and gas stations” told her they will stop supplying gas stations, trucks, and others carrying petrol on Friday. Those messages further feed the panic, resulting in even more hoarding behaviour.

“No supply problems at our gas stations”

RTVE writes that both Repsol and the Spanish Confederation of Petrol Station Employers (CEEES) emphasise that “there will be no supply problems at our petrol stations,” said a Repsol spokesperson. “The stations are working normally. There will be petrol all those days,” he adds.

Other Spanish transport employers have also denied that shortages are to be expected, saying delivery is “guaranteed” and that hoarding is not therefore necessary. Dulse Díaz adds that the strike is not supported by the National Committee for the Transport of Goods. This represents “some 60,000 companies and 265,000 trucks, 80% of the fleet”. Díaz is Deputy Secretary-General of the Spanish Confederation of Goods Transport (CETM).

The one who has declared the indefinite strike is the Platform for the Defense of the Transport Sector. However, this is not a majority organisation. The lay-off of work by their members cannot be called a strike, because it does not come from the unions.

Is there a food shortage?

RTVE also investigated whether a shortage of food is to be expected in Spain due to lack of supply. The three main road haulage associations (CETM, FENADISMER, and ASTIC) react clearly: “There is no risk of shortages”. The current empty shelves are mainly the result of the hoarding behaviour of consumers. As @beblsa writes on Twitter: “You see, dear ones @Mercadona THERE IS NO TRANSPORTATION STRIKE, stop destroying the supermarkets that in two hours you have finished with the milk, the macaroni, the noodles, the rice…”

“Very powerful” agri-food sector

Reassurance is also coming from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food (MAPA). By e-mail, the ministry assures “the food supply in Spain is assured”. Minister Planas also emphasised on Friday in La Hora de la 1 that the Spanish “agri-food sector” is “very powerful” concerning international markets.

RTVE also asked Mercamadrid (the largest fresh food distribution platform in Spain) about this issue. According to this platform “there is no food shortage at the moment and there will not be in the coming days.”

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