Food News

What a trip to the supermarket reveals about our pantry-staple preferences

Cheap pasta is in. Cup-a-soup is out. Australia has spoken.

By Yvonne C Lam
Empty supermarket shelves as a result of panic-buying triggered by COVID-19 fears.
Panic-buying could be our new national sport, second only to deposing democratically elected Prime Ministers. For weeks, customers have stripped supermarket shelves bare of essential kitchen and household items: toilet paper and soap comprise the top-sellers, as do pasta and rice.
This behaviour lays bare two things about the national psyche. One: the coronavirus pandemic has made people scared. And fear breeds panic, which begets stockpiling of shelf-stable food items. And two: all carbohydrates are equal, but some are more equal than others.
Because if a morning trip to my local supermarket is anything, it's a mirror to the nation's pantry-staple preferences. Cheap pasta is in. Cup-a-soup is out. And we will never, ever give up on tacos.

1. When it comes to pasta, we are scrooges

Balducci pasta, which retails for $1.70 to $2 a packet, is the lowest-priced pasta and the highest in demand. Only a dozen or so packets of their linguine remained. Similarly the shelves holding the San Remo selection, the second-cheapest pasta brand ($2.60) were mostly bare, save for several remaining packets of trivette and elbows. Perhaps the elbow-shaped pasta pieces are too anatomically reminiscent of our real-life elbows, with which we have been instructed to sneeze into, while also using these same elbows to "elbow-bump" our compatriots in lieu of handshakes. The world is a strange place right now.

2. We love long and short pasta equally

There was no clear preference for pappardelle or penne; spaghetti or spirals. But know this: no-one knows what to do with curly lasagne sheets.

3. Few people have discovered the joys of my favourite brand of pasta. Please keep it that way

Glorious, toothsome Molisana ($2.99), hewn from the pasta gods themselves, is in plentiful stock. Praise be.

4. Roger Federer needs to up his game

Even with the tennis player's multi-million brand ambassador role with Barilla, its pasta range ($2.85) was looking suspiciously well-stocked. The Barilla shelves were a sea of blue, a beautiful royal blue, bountiful with farfalle, spaghettoni, rigatoni. Federer, do better.
Barilla pasta stock is plentiful.

5. Someone out there is buying lentil pasta

This product is the devil. Like Satan himself, the alt-pasta assumes the form of living, breathing penne and spaghetti, but is forged in the depths of hell from red lentils, chickpeas, and green-pea protein. Yes, it's gluten-free. But even those among us with dietary requirements deserve better in these dire times.

6. But no-one is buying this gift-wrapped pasta

$5 for 500 grams of casereccia, even if it does come with a bow? As Darryl Kerrigan would say, tell 'em they're dreaming.
Tell 'em they're dreaming.

7. We’re a non-discriminatory rice-buying crowd

Jasmine. Basmati. Arborio. Sushi. The United Nations of rice is coming to a self-isolating dinner table near you.

8. The people want their tacos

El Paso is making a mint right now, though their R&D team should note: nothing, not even a pandemic, will make customers buy these nacho-cheese flavoured taco shells.
The people have spoken, and their mouths are full of taco.

9. They want their two-minute noodles too

Chicken and beef flavours: yes. "Oriental" flavour: no. Could this be due to unfounded, dog-whistling community fears that Chinese restaurants and products are unsafe to consume? Or that using an historically outdated term to describe pan-Asian flavours is a poor decision in the twenty-first century? Unsure.

10. But not their cup-a-soups

Homestyle chicken noodle. Creamy chicken. Creamy chicken and corn. Chinese chicken and corn. None of the above will be stockpiled during the pandemic.
So much chicken.
There is one silver lining. The dwindling supplies of pasta and rice on supermarket shelves provides a handy excuse to order takeaway from our local restaurants and cafés. In these times of social distancing and bans on mass gatherings, the country's hospitality business is struggling. This is how you can support them.