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Apocalypse Pantry Update
Lengthening The End Time Gravy Train
© 2013 James LaFond
Across America there are a surprising number of people in all walks of life currently planning for a social catastrophe of some kind. Weather it is a pandemic; a solar flare that takes out the power grid for a month or more; or the eruption of Mount OMG, the concern that our society is so near the end of a barely sustainable cycle, has many folks looking at their own resources or banding together with like-minded people to form contingency networks.
My print publisher Paladin Press has long sold titles devoted to surviving bad times. Even the History Channel recently did a dark docudrama about a family surviving social breakdown. My nonfiction writing has tended to focus on surviving the crappy nuances of the here-and-now. Much to my surprise I was contacted by a small local group of suburban professionals; husbands and wives with kids and establishment jobs, not some tobacco-chawing redneck with a wall-eyed wife, about help with their security arrangements.
What I found was a suburban house like any other, with the exception of high quantities of very sustainably repackaged groceries in the basement, and a handbook written by an x-military guy who specializes in advising people who have these concerns. I have not yet gotten a copy of the book and will do so and post a review. During our two-hour discussion I did read some passages in the book about things I was very knowledgeable about, primarily the retail food industry; the nodes of which will constitute the first line of supply during any natural or manmade disaster. This is a good way to assess an author’s knowledge depth—by going right to your specialty.
The man was spot-on with his assessment of the supply capacity of retail food outlets being critically short. I forget what his exact claim was, but it was an average that I agreed with. Let me break it down to you in a couple different ways. I will use normal business days as a measuring stick. We also have two other depletion rate models: food stamp surges when the ubiquitous mothers of future drug lords sally forth in droves from their lead-painted abodes to buy a month’s worth of food in one unsavory swipe of their ‘independence card’; and snow panics, during which you would think that The End Time is upon us already—except for the fact that DVDs and snack food outsell milk and bread.
Food stamp surges in urban markets double daily business.
Snow panics triple or quadruple daily business.
Milk & Bread
All stores, no matter their scale or their format, seek to keep a two-day’s supply of milk and bread on hand. They would prefer to only have to house a one-day supply, as ‘feshness sells’. But Sunday deliveries cost more, and then there are the intermittent holidays to consider—always a disaster to your food retailer. So two days it is. This means extra big orders are required to cover food stamps and snow panics.
Now, if Mount OMG has just erupted you at least have a snow scare on your hands—one day people, before there is nothing left to smear your rug rats’ peanut butter and jelly on and nothing for them to wash down that now extinct repast but the mud coming out of your kitchen tap.
Perishables
Okay, the refrigerated stuff is stored at minimal levels because of product longevity and storage space concerns. All of these supplies can be regarded as being at milk and bread levels. Of course, if the power grid goes down, it’s all mush anyhow. So what is the point? If something really crappy happens with the power grid or society, your emergency purchases—or looting, depending on whether or not you are a righteous ghettoite—is best focused on grabbing produce items that require no refrigeration: potatoes; apples; bananas. These are also the produce items that are often bought in pallet quantities. If it is a root, or it can survive a fall from a tree, it will last.
The Groceries
Dry groceries in the store center are set for a minimal three-day supply, because the guys who stock it are specialized and hard to train and are also drunks, drug addicts and criminals who call out once a week, or get locked up for verbally equating cops to farm animals on their way to work on Friday night. So the best selling items, like the top name brand mayonnaise, or the whole grain life-saver shaped cereal with the pedophilic bee on the box, is pretty much gone half way through day three. This means, that in the case of a run on supermarkets, your kids’ favorite items and the goo that your wife just can’t stand being replaced on her sandwich, will be gone. Good luck homeboy, it is looking like a long apocalypse already!
Fortunately there are three factors that make store stock higher than perceived. Keep in mind, that I have opened unsupplied stores that have survived two days of disaster-level blitz panic shopping and still found tons of food on the shelves. In monetary terms a neighborhood supermarket in a 1970s building holds from 0.2 to 0.4 million dollars in stock. Major outlets like a chain supermarket on a county crossroads hold from 0.5 to 1.0 million dollars worth. I’ve never worked beyond that scale and have to guess at over a million dollar inventory for the new mega markets.
1. Most mid-selling items will be overstocked by the clerk, and they represent a full third of your inventory. Off brands of beans, cereal with amateur level cartoons, Miracle Whip [see Whipped! on the Harm City page] and, in the ghetto, anything that is not sweetened or heavily salted, are ‘runners’: items that can be let run without ordering for a week. This facilitates product rotation and helps one judiciously plan his hangover order.
2. ‘Dogs’, ‘weird shit’ and ‘oddball items’ are terms used to describe gourmet or specialty foods; expensive, slow selling delicacies sought out by that gay teacher shopping on his way out of town. It might comfort you to know that the last meal that can be got from a run-over food retailer at The End Time will feature the best exotic garnishes and most potent Asian condiments! The most nutritious items in this category are peanut butter substitutes made with soy, filberts, cashews and almonds. Urban Shopper Note: ‘Yo, if you be lootin’ grab dat shit!’
3. Wholesaler Sodomization of the ankle-grabbing retailer is a constant theme in retail food. In fact, the most used metaphor in retail food is sodomy of the traditional penitentiary kind, followed by gang rape metaphors. Really, you will hear a buyer talking to a seller back in the stockroom, and swear that you are listening to two thugs negotiate a drug buy. The fact is your local retailer, if an independent, is choking on stuff he could not really afford to buy just so he can keep his prices down and remain viable. If it is a chain outfit the onsite manager is just the submissive partner in this massive inequitable sex metaphor. There is huge pressure from the wholesaler to buy single palletized items in large quantity. This brings us to the reason for this article, the fact that the economy has gotten so lousy for retailers that they are altering their inventory control model.
‘My Money Doesn’t Make Money Anymore’
Up through the 1970’s supermarkets were constructed with significant storage space, up to 30% of total footage. Beginning in the late 70’s the expansion of product lines began requiring evermore display space, causing the stockroom to decrease in size and deliveries to increase in frequency. By the 1980’s, at least in the Baltimore area, you had one or two specialists in each store that was charged with making sure this week’s promotion sold down enough to make room for next week’s promotion, without selling out.
This effort to ‘turn inventory over’ every week was not just spatial, but financial. Handling inventory was risky, and labor intensive, especially when 20% of your stock was packed in glass! I have seen mountains of tiered soda pallets tumble like dominos, the food clerk’s version of a tsunami-causing coastal landslide. The fact is, the dude that owned that 1980’s market could either pay his clerks, and his utility company, and eventually the municipality [in the form of inventory tax] for the privilege of owning this resalable product, or he could give his money to some prick in a suit who would use that money to make more money, without having to pay a grunt to push it around.
This dual impetus for ‘turning over stock’ evolved into ‘inventory control’ and gained crucial momentum in the early 1990’s when WallMart headed east into Maryland. A regional food retailer imported an eccentric Midwestern retailer to take up the CEO mantel and prepare to battle the retail food Goliath. I was one of the inventory control specialists recruited for this effort. This outfit was so streamlined that we had no stockroom to speak of, and my specialty largely involved the ability to ‘freight’ [merchandise onto shelves] vast orders of perishable groceries before they thawed out, as it went from truck to floor overnight, without enough storage to accommodate the order.
But the product selection began reproducing at a rate that would have been envied by our food stamp customers, and even those stores with vestigial stockrooms and spacious sales floors are now inadequate; the more so when one considers the new pressure in retail food, the reversal of the ‘bounteous suit’ paradigm. As my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss recently said when the complaint about stuffing our stockroom to the ceiling came to him, “It’s money in the bank.”
The translation is this: For an almost [not liquid] millionaire who holds significant local retail space, investing money with a suit or his online equivalent is perilous, and storing it in the bank is a guaranteed loss once inflation takes its bite. But, thanks to inflation, the can of beans we bought in September 2012 for 1.34 to redeem at a retail value of 1.79 is now valued at 1.99.
The result is a five-day supply on hand [up from three days] of a lot of food staples, most prominently the one thing you will need if the power grid and the water purification system in your area goes down for a week or more: bottled water. We retailers have gotten the news from On High from the manufacturers through the suppliers that water prices will continue to rise. They are buying heavily and inducing us to buy against a promised price hike.
Now there is something to wash down that last can of goose liver pate you find in the sheet metal wilderness that used to be your local grocer’s specialty food aisle.
Ghetto Note
Homeboy, that Korean grocer with the pump shotgun down on the corner only has about a 12-hour supply of everything, and is probably already out of the barbecue flavored chips anyhow. Besides he’s up-charging to pay for his body armor and counter shield. You might as well use your white-dudes-in-wigs to buy your liquor from him, and then, while he’s dealing with some hard-headed fool, pile in his van with your homeboys and cruise on out to the county to do your looting. The white dude that runs that joint out there is only armed with a case-cutter. Remember Bro, when the grid goes down, yo baby’s mamma’s plastic ain’t gonna swipe.
Bon appetite!
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