I had occasion to have lunch yesterday with the owner/operator of a chain of grocery stores, one well-known in the Southeast U.S. He told me that business was down, and down considerably in the last couple of months. I expressed surprise at this remark, indicating that I thought an economic downturn might be good for grocery stores as fewer people would eat out and more would cook at home — helping the grocery business.
“No,” this 60+ year veteran of the grocery industry said, “when people get scared they eat out of Tupperware.” He went on to explain that he thought it was just a natural reaction that people hoard and save food during fearful times. During normal times, they throw that last bit of macaroni and cheese away. But, when they sense even the slightest possibility that food might be a more difficult for them to get in the future they put that small portion of mac and cheese in the refrigerator for tomorrow’s lunch. This grocery executive did not couch his explanation in the language of evolutionary psychology, but that was the thrust of its content — a long-established natural reaction to save food for survival. His terabytes of scanner data were telling an ancient story, of a very human reaction to this economic mess.