Apocalyptic disasters of Biblical proportion are the wrong reason to store food for emergencies, according to Utah resident Mike Porenta, a representative for the preparedness-minded American Preppers Network.
“Food storage is not going to save you if fire comes from the sky,” he said.
Porenta, who owns a food storage retail business, said for years he’s kept his own supplies on hand because he does not want to rely on government agencies in times of extreme turmoil, such as after a serious earthquake, or during smaller setbacks, such as job loss.
“No one cares about my family more than I do,” he said.
And major U.S. retailers such as Costco and Sam’s Club are betting that more and more people feel the same way Porenta does. Online, those retailers are selling various emergency food supply kits that can cost up to thousands of dollars, potentially bringing the idea of mass emergency food storage further out of the survivalist sphere and into the mainstream.
It’s unclear how long big box retailers have been riding this food storage trend, but the products they have on their websites target many different types of consumers. The aforementioned apocalyptic disasters are still the rationale for some buyers; in rural Florida, of course, hurricanes are a factor that brings in homeowners fearing long power outages.
Costco’s website sells one kit that costs about $3,500 and promises to provide a yearlong supply of food for four people. And the website claims the products will be shipped discreetly.
“(The) shipment arrives on a pallet that is black-wrapped for security and privacy,” the website states.
The supply kit includes an assortment of cans with dehydrated foods. The shelf lives range from three to 25 years, and the items are labeled with names such as “egg powder,” “white rice,” “banana slices,” “powdered milk” and even “fudge brownies.”
Elaine Hastings, a licensed dietitian and nutritionist, responding to questions by email, said that a $4,000 emergency supply kit is unnecessary and costly.
“You can make your own emergency food and nutrition supply check list, and it will likely cost one-fourth of what you’re paying for these kits,” Hastings said. “You’re wasting your money, and with a shelf life of 25 years, likely your grandchildren will find your emergency food kit and toss it.”
Costco Wholesale Corp. and Shelf Reliance, LLC, the company that produces the one-year emergency food supply kit sold by the large retailer, did not immediately return phone calls.
The Sam’s Club website has more than 150 emergency food storage options, including organic and gluten-free products, Christi Gallagher, a spokeswoman for the retail chain, wrote in an email.
Sam’s Club sells the emergency food supply kits because its top priority is to provide for “members’ needs and routines, including planning for emergencies,” Gallagher said.
“Our members invest in emergency food storage items for several reasons — to prepare for seasonal disasters or power outages, to provide charitable donations to disaster-affected communities or simply to have peace of mind in an unpredictable economic and environmental climate,” Gallagher said.
People are buying these kits, she said.
“Some of the most popular regions are Texas, the Midwest, Utah, Southeastern coastal cities and gulfside residents,” Gallagher said.
In Florida, hurricanes are the No. 1 natural disaster threat, followed by wildfires, flooding and lightning, according to Jerry Sanford, public information officer for the North Naples Fire District.
Sanford is the coordinator of the North Naples Community Emergency Response Teams. CERT, a nationwide program, trains civilians in basic disaster response skills so they can play a role in their families and communities when needed. There are 18 CERT teams in North Naples neighborhoods alone, according to Sanford.
There’s a rising interest in disaster preparedness among residents, Sanford said. He said he’s seen an increase in the number of people who want to take CERT classes since the fall, which was after Hurricane Sandy caused damage in New York, New Jersey and other surrounding states.
“I had to cut (enrollment) off at 32 (people),” Sanford said.
Sanford said although he thinks the bulk emergency food storage kits are a bit much for the average family’s needs, he’s happy major retailers are selling the items.
“They are recognizing that there is a need,” he said.
According to the Sam’s Club website, its one-year emergency food storage kit for one person costs $898. As of Sunday night, the product had been reviewed by 70 members and had a rating of 4.7 out of 5 possible diamonds.
Gallagher said that although Sam’s Club does not publicly share information about their sales it is “encouraged by our members’ response to this offering.”
But Hastings and Sanford agree that people should try to keep it simple when planning for emergencies.
Those who want to retain nutritious food during times of natural and man-made disasters can be prepared if they simply plan ahead, Hastings said.
People don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to be prepared, according to Hastings. She recommended people keep about 1 to 2 weeks of food and 2 to 4 weeks of medication on hand for emergencies.
She said people could purchase peanut butter, nuts, beans and canned meats, such as tuna and chicken for protein. Canned beans and fruits are also important for fiber, Hastings said.
“Ultimately, the priority is protein as well as caloric- and nutrient-dense foods,” she said.
Porenta, who agrees that large food supply kits are not for everyone, suggested that people should try to stay within a realistic budget when preparing for the worst.
“Don’t go crazy. Don’t rack up your credit card,” Porenta said. “It does no good if you have a year supply of food but you lost your marriage.”