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Few signs of panic buying here

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Despite rumors of panic buying of food and other commodities in the wake of the terrorist attacks Tuesday in New York and Washington, D.C., most Utahns have avoided the kinds of manic shopping sprees that occurred in the months leading up to Y2K two years ago.

Nor did there seem to be much in the way of price gouging by merchants anxious to prey on fears stemming from the possibility of shortages as the airlines shut down, strangling a major segment of the transportation industry.

"We haven't seen any price increases from manufacturers or by stores and don't expect to see any in the near future," said Steve Rich, vice president of marketing for Associated Food Stores, Utah's largest wholesale supplier of supermarkets in Utah.

"Even if there was a slight increase, we would try to absorb that and not pass it on to our customers," he added.

Associated is not only a grocery wholesaler but operates several supermarket chains in the state, such as Dan's Foods and others.

Nor was there the kind of mass buying that often accompanies national disasters.

"We did see an increase in purchases in a lot of our stores (Tuesday), but it was natural," Rich said. "People always look to our stores for case-lot sales."

Marcia Gilford, spokeswoman for Smith's Food and Drug stores, said its sales also were strong Tuesday but not to the point that it represented panic buying. Nor did any shortages occur through Wednesday.

"I can't say that we had shortages of any products, but most of our inventory comes in by truck, not by airplane, so those shipments would be unaffected. There was nothing to show that people are panicked," she said.

Jenny Enochson, spokeswoman for Albertson's Food & Drug, had a similar assessment. "There's been no panic buying that we have noticed, but we're watching all our stores closely to make sure no shortages crop up. Since all our goods come in by truck, we don't expect any."

Some businesses that have felt the pinch are restaurants, especially those specializing in fresh seafood that is usually flown in daily.

"Today is a real test for us," said Ty Frederickson, purchasing manager for the Gastronomy chain of Market Street seafood restaurants in the Salt Lake area.

"We're experiencing shortages right now of fish from Hawaii and Alaska. All of our fish is flown in fresh daily, but anything off the West Coast we can put on a truck and get it here in 12 hours. But speed is the key. We'll have to adapt with more red meat and chicken dishes. You can get shell fish, such as clams and mussels, that are still alive when they arrive so they're no problem."

Fresh fish, however, needs to arrive more quickly.

With no flights coming in Wednesday, either, Frederickson said it will put even further pressure on the company's traditional menu.

E-mail: max@desnews.com