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CHICAGO -- As retailers in coastal areas help their customers stock up in this unusually active hurricane season, purchasing patterns from pre-Hurricane Katrina sales, released last week by Information Resources, Inc., might help.
In IRI's first in a series of reports on the impact of Hurricane Katrina, the data company shared the following on purchase behavior in the week preceding the hurricane's arrival across three of the affected areas: New Orleans, La.; Mobile, Ala. and Birmingham/Montgomery, Ala.; and Mississippi:
Gulf Coast consumers stocked up on beverages and shelf-stable foods rich in protein, focusing on basic nutritional necessities. Shelf-stable foods offering protein, such as canned meat, canned seafood, and dried meat snacks, experienced huge surges in demand in New Orleans/Mobile. Bottled water unit sales increased dramatically across all three markets studied. New Orleans consumers also stocked up on shelf-stable non-fruit drinks and aseptic juices.
-- Consumers prepared for power outages with flashlights, batteries and charcoal/lighter fluid. Exceptionally high demand for flashlights and batteries across the Gulf Coast region drove total U.S. unit sales up 33 percent and 15 percent respectively for the week ending August 28 versus the prior week period. Charcoal and lighter fluid increased substantially within the region -- particularly in New Orleans/Mobile as consumers planned for alternate meal preparation options in the event of power outages.
-- Purchases of food and beverages requiring refrigeration were avoided.
Significant unit sales declines across dairy and frozen food categories illustrate consumers’ avoidance of food and beverages requiring refrigeration -- especially in New Orleans/Mobile, where even milk unit sales declined 7 percent.
-- Baby care categories were not generally part of preparedness planning. With a few exceptions, which include baby food unit sales increases in Birmingham/Montgomery and baby formula/electrolyte sales increases in Mississippi, major baby care categories declined among affected markets in the week prior to the hurricane. Consumers likely had a supply at home that they felt would be sufficient and focused their efforts on the most fundamental necessities, such as water. Still, there's an opportunity for retailers to educate their shoppers on the importance of thinking of long-term needs in times of disaster, according to IRI.
-- Pet food stock-up was not common. While pet owners did purchase cat/dog litter in greater quantities, dog and cat food sales declined in the affected markets with the exception of Birmingham/Montgomery, where dog food unit sales increased 4 percent. As pet food is often purchased in large quantities, owners may have had sufficient supplies on hand; however, educational efforts should emphasize the need to consider pet supplies in consumer disaster planning practices, IRI noted.
-- Purchases of healthcare categories slowed dramatically. As Gulf Coast consumers shifted their focus to basic food, beverage, and household necessities, they decreased focus on healthcare products. Sales across most leading healthcare categories -- including over-the-counter treatments for chronic conditions that can cause considerable discomfort and first aid treatments that may be required if injuries occur -- declined substantially in the week before the hurricane versus the prior week period. This is another area that creates an opportunity for retailers, IRI pointed out. Consumers should be encouraged to identify and address potential healthcare needs in disaster planning efforts.