( The Packer )

Flash forward: what if COVID-19 spreads? How will COVID-19 (coronavirus) impact supermarkets and the entire food chain?

There are reports of shoppers in some regions stocking up on hand sanitizers, toilet paper (Why is everyone buying toilet paper?)  and nonperishable foodstuffs in the wake of increased publicity about the outbreak.

The USDA recently published a report from South Korea describing consumer reaction there, where the number of ill people linked to  COVID-19 is much higher than the U.S. (see outbreak map), with more than 5,000 cases in South Korea versus less than 200 in the U.S. as of March 4.

It may be useful to steal a look at what is happening in South Korea with those big numbers.

From the USDA FAS report.

“The Korean food market has been significantly impacted by the on-going COVID-19 virus outbreak since the first local infection reported on January 20, 2020. As an indicator, the Korea Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MLIT) reported on February 25 that public transportation usage in the country declined 51 percent for express buses, 56 percent for railroad trains, and 15 percent for highway traffic between February 21-24 compared to the same period last year.

The local retail and restaurant industries have reported a sharp decline in consumer visits and sales. The Korea Small Business Federation reported on February 20 that 97.6 percent of small businesses in Korea saw sales decline since the outbreak of COVID-19 in mid-January. The sales decline was mainly due to reduced consumer visits and weaker economic activity in the market. 

The following are summaries of some of the press coverage on COVID-19: Retail Stores Suffer from Reduced Consumer Traffic (2/18)  Lotte Mart, a leading hypermarket retailer, reported on February 18 that its sales and store visitors declined by 13 percent and 16 percent respectively during the last 30 days. Some conventional retailers have had to close stores for several days for disinfection after they were visited by infected people. For example, four large stores, including department stores and hypermarket stores, closed during the weekend (February 22-23) after people with the virus were found to have visited the stores.

Healthy & Eating Home Foods Report Solid Sales Growth (2/18)  Lotte Mart reported that some of its food sales showed solid growth despite reduced consumer traffic as consumers opted for eating at home instead of dining out. Pork meat (24 percent), cabbage (55 percent), carrots (34 percent), onions (19 percent) were some of the products that had increased sales.

Consumers are stockpiling food supplies. EMART, the leading hypermarket retail chain, reported that its stores in Daegu city saw a 123 percent, 105 percent, and 62 percent sales growth for rice, instant noodles, and bottled water respectively over February 19-20 compared to the same period last year.

SSG.com, a leading on-line grocery retailer, reported on February 24 that orders for canned foods increased 268 percent, rice 187 percent, instant noodles 175 percent, prepared meals 168 percent, and bottled waters 116 percent compared to the previous week.

Market Curly, a leading fresh food on-line retailer, reported on February 18 that its daily sales of food products almost doubled in February as consumers opted for home-delivery orders while reducing trips to stores out of fear of COVID-19."


TK: Here in the U.S., today.com considered what people who “self-quarantine” should stock up on at their supermarkets.

Just how big will the outbreak numbers grow in the U.S., and around the world?

It is all speculation and fear at this point, as evidenced by heavy business for toilet paper and hand sanitizers. Check out the latest on the outbreak from the CDC here.

Submitted by Ken Silsby on Thu, 03/05/2020 - 07:26

How would bulk displays of ready to eat fruits and vegetables be affected? More prepackaged? Regular disinfection?