Release: Lincoln University
Booze left on the shelf after 2011 earthquake
New research taken from the scanning of goods in Christchurch supermarkets is showing we didn’t turn to the bottle to cope with the earthquakes — at least not immediately.
Lincoln University Senior Marketing Lecturer Dr Sharon Forbes used bar code scanner data supplied by research company Nielsen to look at buying habits immediately after the February 22 earthquake and for several weeks after.
“There is no evidence that consumption of potentially harmful products or unhealthy foods increased immediately after the disaster,” Dr Forbes says.
The study is outlined in her paper “Post-disaster consumption: analysis from the 2011 Christchurch earthquake” which was judged the best paper at the recent International Food Research Marketing Symposium in Crete.
She says it is the first real empirical study she knows of which looked at the actual products that were purchased following a disaster and did not rely on asking people to recall their behaviour.
She found we turned away from alcohol and cigarettes in the first week. We bought lots of water, torches, matches, phone cards, cleaning products and canned goods – water sales were up 329 per cent.
“We bought utilitarian goods,” she says, things which were useful at the time.
“We were running on adrenalin. There was not the need for hedonistic goods such as alcohol.”
Consumers focused on satisfying their physiological needs.
However the adrenalin wore off quickly. While we still bought our water, wine sales, down 20 per cent straight after the event rose by over 20 per cent over pre-quake purchasing levels after the first week.
However the study looks wider than just harmful products.
Over the next several weeks after the event there were also decreases in consumption in the majority of product categories, particularly perishable products, baby products and tobacco.
We did not worry too much about personal grooming as well, as sales of toiletries went down.
However large numbers leaving the city, especially those with young babies, could have affected those figures.
Dr Forbes says large scale natural disasters are increasing, so research like this could have implications for consumers, retailers and those involved with humanitarian logistics.
“In the aftermath concentrate on getting the utilitarian goods in, as they are what people want.”