Nonfoods Talk: Eye of the storm

Hurricane Irene pounded the East Coast with high winds and heavy rain. It was the perfect weather for increased batteries sales.

By Seth Mendelson

Did Duracell and Energizer sponsor Hurricane Irene? If the two giants of the battery world did not, they should have. The giant hurricane, which battered the East Coast during the last week of August, led to a huge rush on batteries in virtually every retail outlet in the days leading up to its coming onshore as a major storm.

The hurricane caused major destruction, flooding and several dozen deaths and that is not something to make light of.

However, it also helped to push sales of normally slow-moving C and D batteries in retailers up and down the East Coast. In fact, a visit to Home Depot, Walmart, CVS and at least four supermarkets in the days leading up to the storm found none of these batteries available for sale in these outlets.

I know because I was one of those people looking for products that would get me through the storm in the likely event that I lost power for a few hours or days. So, as the hurricane approached, I filled the cars with gas, took enough cash out of the bank to survive for at least a week and ran to the store to buy enough food and supplies to get me and my family through the next few days.

Batteries and flashlights were at the top of the list. To be brutally honest, I normally have very little use for C and D batteries these days. Most of the devices I use that need batteries operate on AA or AAA batteries, with the exception of smoke detectors, which normally operate on 9 volts.

But flashlights tend to use the aforementioned C and D batteries and, frankly, there was a run on these products, the likes of which have not been seen for years. It got so crazy that store employees were giving consumers advice on what other retailers might have Cs and Ds in stock.

A ShopRite employee told me to rush over to a nearby CVS. She said that the drugstore had just gotten an emergency shipment of Cs and Ds and I need to go over there.

Of course, by the time I got there, the store was already out of these batteries and I was told to go to Home Depot, which also had no Cs or Ds left. Eventually, I gave up and hoped that the batteries in the flashlights would make it through the night. They didn’t.

The moral of this story is that consumers and retailers need to be prepared for the worst. August through October is hurricane season along the East Coast and the Gulf Coast. It makes sense for retailers in those areas to be just as prepared to as consumers for the worst.

That means stocking up on all the essentials, from milk and bread to flashlights and batteries. And, it means making sure that you have enough of these products to ensure that all of your consumers’ needs are satisfied. It not only makes sense, it makes money.

Unfortunately, I have the responsibility to report that a longtime freelance writer for Macfadden Communications, including Grocery Headquarters, as well as a good friend, passed away after a courageous fight against non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I had known Bob Seligman for nearly 37 years, meeting him while he was a staff reporter for Gannett Newspapers and I was the epitome of an office gofer.

Over the years I grew to respect Bob’s journalistic abilities and ethics and knew that when I gave him a story, it would come in with the best material backed by hard facts. He never missed a deadline, even when it was nearly impossible to find the retailers and suppliers needed to submit an accurate and complete story.

Bob did his job well to the very end. After he got sick about four years ago, he made it clear that he was going to beat this disease. Unfortunately, he did not and passed away at the too-young age of 61 in late August. Bob put up the good fight in life and in his battle to delay death. He will be missed by the people who knew him and the people he touched with his words.

Seth Mendelson can be reached at  646-274-3507, or

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