Consumers' growing concern regarding possible biological, chemical or other types of terrorist attacks has led some retailers to increase their displays of emergency essentials like batteries, flashlights and bottled water.
"There has been a slight spike in some of those categories," said Gordon Thompson, general merchandise/seasonal category manager, Associated Food Stores, Salt Lake City. "We've been getting some calls for disaster kits and, believe it or not, gas masks, but those are very hard to find."
He said the wholesale distributor, which serves 600 independent grocers, has been building clip strips and power panels for these types of items "to get them out in front of the consumer more."
Thompson said Associated Food Stores has also seen a spike in sales of grocery items by the caseload.
The American Red Cross, Washington, recently suggested that consumers create a disaster communications plan and assemble a disaster supply kit that includes products like contact lens solutions to wash out irritants, prescription medications, a battery-powered radio, flashlights with working batteries and extra batteries, among other items.
"We would imagine that the public would turn to local supermarkets to fill their disaster supply kits," said Darren Irby, spokesman, American Red Cross.
According to a recent TIME/CNN poll, 53% of people surveyed feared a chemical or biological attack, while 23% feared a nuclear strike.
Foodarama Market, a nine-unit retailer based in Houston that also owns six La Fiesta stores, has increased its supplies of nonfood emergency necessities. Bob Lopez, general merchandise and health and beauty care buyer, said he told his supplier to release the next month's shippers of supplies like batteries and flashlights a month early.
"I did sense that we were going to have a surge on batteries and flashlights and water. We didn't blow out sales, but I was prepared," Lopez said.
However, he said that aggregating emergency supplies into one special display would be distasteful.
"I thought it was tacky to do any sort of Sept. 11 display," he said, noting that the retailer did not change the way the items were being merchandised in the stores. "We just had more of them in the same place," he said.
Lopez pointed out that the advent of hurricane season and Halloween also could be contributing to spikes in sales for emergency-preparation items like batteries and flashlights.
A spokeswoman at battery and electronics supplier Panasonic, Secaucus, N.J., said the company has seen steady growth in the sale of batteries and flashlights since Sept. 11, although she said Panasonic could not definitively attribute the sales gains to consumers' preparations for potential disaster.
"We do believe that, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, people are expressing a desire to stay closer to home and spend more time with family," said the spokeswoman, Christine Denning. "This could mean increased battery usage in toys, cameras and portable consumer electronics products."
Karen Brown, senior vice president, Food Marketing Institute, Washington, agreed that the stay-at-home trend is having a positive impact on supermarket sales.
"We've heard overall sales are up in general -- it relates to consumers spending more time at home, preparing more meals at home," she said.
In particular, she said company members have reported that sales of bottled water, candles and batteries have increased. "People just want to be prepared," she said.
Some retailers said they have not seen any sales changes that they can attribute to consumers' preparations for possible disasters.
"I figured we would see batteries, canned meats move, but they haven't taken off -- it surprised me," said Randy Towne, assistant manager at a New Braunfels, Texas, Handy Andy Supermarket.
Brian Kaufmann, vice president of advertising and merchandising, Dearborn Wholesale Grocers, Chicago, said the big sales spike has been in the form of American flags. "The interest has all been in flags; I don't see any trends with [batteries, flashlights and other emergency items] at all," he said.
According to ACNielsen, Schaumburg, Ill., sales of batteries, flashlights and candles all increased significantly in the two weeks following the attacks. Unit sales of flashlights were up 26.1% in the week ending Sept. 15 and 13.8% in the week ending Sept. 22, compared with year-ago results.
Unit sales of candles were also up in double digits, and unit sales of batteries were up in single digits.