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Visualizing the Cost of Food for Two Weeks of Quarantine

Many Americans have encountered an unfamiliar sight lately at the grocery: empty shelves. The coronavirus has unleashed panic buying across the country, despite retailers’ insistence that food supply chains are holding up. Even so, it’s good to keep some extra food on hand, as a positive or likely-positive coronavirus diagnosis means a two-week quarantine. What does two weeks of food look like?

quarantine food

  • Tyson, the nation’s largest meat packer, has ramped up production to meet dwindling store supplies.
  • Dairy prices are falling as China may cease importing milk from the U.S.
  • U.S. consumers are shunning fresh fruits and vegetables in favor of non-perishable goods.
  • While industry experts do not predict food shortages, some specialty brands and items may be in short supply.

For this viz, we calculate what a two-week food supply would cost based on the United States Department of Agriculture’s recommended daily intake amounts, and prices at Walmart.com. You can get the link to each price in our data source. Our viz is a donut chart of two layers: we break each category into sub-category for the second layer. We focused on non-perishable and frozen food supplies for a quarantine-ready basket of items.

Just under half (47.4%) of the $139 bill goes to protein and vegetables. Meat in particular has been hit hard by supply chain disruptions. Tyson, the country’s largest meat packer, has insisted that meat will be back in stock at groceries soon. To do so, Tyson and other meat suppliers have adjusted policies to avoid sick workers contaminating the supply chain.

With meat hard to come by, Americans have been forced to expand to other protein options. One of them has been tuna and tinned fish, and many consumers have found the category to be much more sophisticated than they remembered. Like meat packers, fruit and vegetable vendors are working full-tilt to restock supplies, although many consumers have been wary of fresh fruit and vegetables with the looming fear of a long quarantine.

It’s not the only category where consumers will be changing habits as a result of the coronavirus: certain brands of grains may be hard to come by as the supply chain is stretched. As one UK grocer explained: “We have 20 different sizes and styles of pasta. We are moving that to six". This could be the status quo for some time: industry experts say that, while there will be no big food shortages, certain preferred brands or specialty food items may be hard to come by.

What foods have been difficult to find in your area? What changes have you made to your food consumption? Let us know in the comments and share with your friends.

Want to take action right now against the coronavirus? Donate to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Response Fund.

About the article


Juan Carlos