The images are flooding social networks: we see families shopping at the edge of their carts, for fear of shortages. An image of the end of the world. Basic necessities are particularly affected, as well as pasta, rice, oil or toilet paper. These days, every hint of a shortage or every negative world event brings a rush to the shelves.

“This phenomenon of consumption appeared at the same time as the health crisis and reproduced itself at the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. The only time we had observed it before was in the 1990s during the Gulf War. “, analysis with Parisian Pascale Hébel, director at C-Ways, a consumer trends company.

Households rushed to the shelves during 2022, resulting in a stock-out rate of 5.5% in October, up 1.5 points from last year . At the top of the most affected products: eggs, plain and flavored sparkling waters, pellets for wood stoves and cold sauces. Irrational purchasing behavior that maintains shortages and the slightest rumor is the pretext for mass purchases.

This was the case for pasta, toilet paper and even sunflower oil. “There is an obvious fear of running out in these panic buys (panic buying, editor’s note). But this overstocking itself generates shortages”, supports Myriam Qadi, researcher at the NielsenIQ institute, with the Parisian. “In France, we have no real shortage, apart from that of mustard due to the very poor seed harvest in Canada”, underlines Pascale Hébel with the daily.

“For all the other products, there were some left in the distributors’ reserves. If there were no more at the start of the week, the shelves would fill up a few days later”. No reason to stock up.

But these days, a simple release is all it takes to create a rush on a product. This was the case for rice. All it took was for the French rice millers’ union (SRF) to warn of a drop in supply coming to France due to poor harvests in Asia due to flooding, and consumers rushed to the rice packets: “From the the next day, customers jumped on it! There was almost nothing left on the shelves”, Pascale Hébel is still surprised with the Parisian.

More prosaically, some stock up to take advantage of promotions or temporary price reductions. It can be parents who take advantage of the drop in the price of diapers, or low-income households who are fighting against inflation. “Some people buy in quantity, saying to themselves: might as well take everything now, it will be more expensive in three months! Basically, they are not necessarily wrong”, explains Myriam Qadi to the Parisian.

Faced with behaviors that can become irrational with a single photo posted on social networks, we will have to accept having fewer choices in the future and be sober in our way of consuming.