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Stocking up and stocking out: Food retail stock-outs, consumer demand, and prices during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020

AAEA members release new research in AEPP

With the supply chain problems recently plaguing the infant formula industry, policymakers have been tracking sales and availability of this food item that is critical to infant health and nutrition. A new study documents that stock-outs of infant formula appeared to increase in 2020 following the onset of the pandemic.

Stocking Up and Stocking Out: Food Retail Stock-outs, Consumer Demand, and Prices during the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020” published in AEPP by Patrick McLaughlin, Alexander Stevens, and Xiao Dong from USDA - Economic Research Service, and Shawn Arita, from USDA, Office of the Chief Economist. The article discovers how much the stock-outs at grocery stores increase following the onset of the pandemic and how they covary with increased sales and prices.

The authors say, “Stock-outs across a wide array of food persisted for weeks to months after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. On average, increases in stock-outs across all packaged foods occurred following increases in total sales, but only after two or three weeks. For the food categories with the highest increases in stock-outs, increases in stock-outs did not appear to coincide with strong and immediate increases in average prices paid for food. This suggests that in the very short term grocery stores were able to keep enough food on-shelves, although after two or three weeks of large increases availability decreased. In addition, it appeared that stores chose to endure some rises in stock-outs  rather than raise prices to try to ensure availability.”

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ABOUT AAEA: Established in 1910, the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association (AAEA) is the leading professional association for agricultural and applied economists, with 2,500 members in more than 60 countries. Members of the AAEA work in academic or government institutions as well as in industry and not-for-profit organizations, and engage in a variety of research, teaching, and outreach activities in the areas of agriculture, the environment, food, health, and international development. The AAEA publishes three journals, the Journal of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (an open access journal), the American Journal of Agricultural Economics and Applied Economic Perspectives & Policy, as well as the online magazine Choices and the online open access publication series Applied Economics Teaching Resources. To learn more, visit

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