Why are people in Germany clearing out supermarket shelves?

Have you noticed empty shelves in your local shop? People in Germany are panic buying over worries about Russia's war in Ukraine. But supermarkets have urged customers to calm down and scale back their stockpiling.

A person using cooking oil.
A person using cooking oil. People in Germany have been panic buying cooking oil and other items, resulting in partial shortages. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Perhaps you’ve come across the oil aisle in a shop and found slim pickings, or worse: nothing left. Or you’ve seen a note or heard an announcement on the supermarket’s loudspeaker urging customers to only buy enough for their household.

This is because customers across Germany have been panic buying certain items over worries about food shortages during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“It’s almost as bad as the first lockdown,” grocery shop owner Beate Schwarz, who’s based in Mainz-Gonseheim, told German broadcaster Tagesschau.

“I don’t understand people – they buy cooking oil and flour like crazy,” she said.

Schwarz said she has not received any cooking oil from her wholesaler this week – and that’s why she has placed a handwritten cardboard sign on the empty shelf that reads: “No, there is no more oil!”

The tweet below shows a Nuremberg supermarket telling off customers for buying oil when they don’t need it. The note says: “Are you buying oil because you need it? Or are you buying oil because everyone is doing it? If everyone buys normally, bottlenecks don’t occur. Haven’t we learned anything from the past two years??”

What’s behind the shortages?

The supply of cooking oils in supermarkets across the country is currently “lower than usual”, according to Christian Böttcher, spokesman of the Federal Association of the German Food Trade (BVLH). 

The most affected product is sunflower oil – a consequence of the Russia-Ukraine war, because Ukraine is one of the world’s most important exporters of sunflower oil.

But the supply of other oils and foodstuffs, including flour and pasta, is also thinner than usual in supermarkets, said Böttcher.

“How severely individual products are affected, and whether there are regional differences, depends on the supply chain situation, and on the individual business relationships between producers, processors and traders,” he added.

However, the association says that supply issues for “basic foodstuffs or goods for daily needs” is not expected in Germany.

Rather, the partial shortage has one main cause: “The lower availability of some basic foodstuffs is driven by excessive stockpiling behaviour on the part of some customers,” Böttcher said.

The association has therefore appealed to customers to buy things like flour, oil, toilet paper and pasta only in household quantities.

READ ALSO: Germans urged not to panic buy over shortage fears

Experts say that production and delivery logistics of the food chain are geared towards this. 

‘Far from a real emergency’

So what’s behind the phenomenon of hoarding food, which is known as Hamsterkäufe in German because it depicts hamsters filling their cheeks with their food?

Armin Nassehi, professor of sociology at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, told Tagesschau why people react to crises by panic buying.

“Exceptional situations overwhelm us, make us afraid,” he said. “We try to control the situation. And with the ‘hoarding purchases’ we simulate the ability to act.

“Moreover, humans tend to imitate. And if everyone suddenly buys cooking oil, then I think: ‘I have to do the same'”.

Experts say that this collective behaviour can lead to an artificial shortage of certain goods.

READ ALSO: Will Germany see a mustard shortage?

“What toilet paper was at the beginning of the corona pandemic is cooking oil or flour in the current crisis,” said Nassehi.

This kind of behaviour is not rational. “After all, we are far from being in a real emergency situation,” he said. “And if it came to that, it would certainly make more sense to stock other things than just cooking oil.”

A woman in Hamburg buying lots of toilet roll at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.

A woman in Hamburg buying lots of toilet roll at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

So what should we have extra supplies of?

A guide from Germany’s Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance describes what a sensible emergency supply looks like. It says: “A person can possibly go three weeks without food, but only four days without liquid.”

Therefore, experts advise that people have 14 litres of liquid for each person in the household, as well as enough food for 10 days – and food that can be kept without refrigeration.

READ ALSO: How prepared is Germany in the event of a military attack?

Every storage cupboard should also have enough candles, torches and batteries in case the power supply fails, as well as any medicines needed.

Back in her small grocery shop in Mainz-Gonsenheim, owner Schwarz wants to continue to supply her regular customers with everything they need.

That’s why she always puts aside small quantities of flour or pasta – to make sure the elderly lady who shops with her every day has enough supplies.

“I’m just annoyed about people who now come from the discounter (supermarket) around the corner because they’re out of oil and then take the last bottles of sunflower oil here,” she said.


Empty – leer

Consequence/result – (die) Folge

Nationwide – flächendeckend/bundesweit

Only in household quantities – nur in haushaltsüblichen Mengen 

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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.