London

Doomsday preppers having their day as city survival food sales soar

London's top survival outfitter, Forest City Surplus, says that since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, sales of survival food and gear have doubled.

Military rations, surgical masks, water purification kits among the store's biggest sellers

Forest City Surplus' Michael Diet holds a veritable cornucopia of survival foods, sales of which he says have doubled since the pandemic hit. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

One of London's top sellers of survival gear says survival food sales have doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country. 

After seemingly endless headlines of deaths, severe illness and ever-tightening government lockdowns caused by a modern-day global pestilence, it seems the idea of a "survivalist" may no longer be limited to the stereotypical wild-eyed paranoiacs dressed in camouflage fatigues.

In fact, many people became swept up in the wave of panic-buying that hit grocery stores across the city a few weeks ago, where customers loaded carts to fill pantries and closets with everything from canned goods, to dried pasta, even toilet paper. 

Forest City Surplus, which is known for its selection of military items, such as boots, uniforms and coats, said Tuesday that one of its most coveted items during the pandemic are military rations.

'It's not quite home cooking'

A sign of the times during the COVID-19 pandemic at Forest City Surplus in London, Ont. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"We're a one-stop shop for everything," said Michael Diet, who's been a manager at the store the past seven years. He said the last few weeks have seen sales shift toward survival items. 

"A lot of the sales have been more toward people getting stuff for the world ending," he said. "I think people are just getting prepared because you never know what will happen."

Because the province has limited gatherings to five people or less, customers can no longer freely browse the retailer's vast collection of odds and ends. Instead, shoppers must order online or tell staff what items they want.

Diet said among the most popular items right now are first aid kids, water purification kits, rubber gloves, surgical masks and gas masks, but the most coveted of all are freeze-dried food and military rations. 

"They're quite edible, but it's not quite home cooking," he said. "I've tried the poutine, shepherds' pie, pulled pork, pizza, pasta, we have quite a range."

In fact, military rations seem to have a following on the Internet, with people offering unboxing videos and reviews of soldiers' meals online, some even feature vintage meals that have been aged to perfection. 

Diet said the Canadian military rations cost $16.95 for about 3,000 to 3,500 calories and come in different flavours, such pizza and pulled pork and have proven so popular the store is limiting sales to two per customer. 

60 meals for $279

One of Forest City Surplus' hottest sellers during the pandemic is this 56-serving freeze-dried meal kit that retails for $199 and has a longer shelf life than its owner. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Freeze-dried food is also a big seller and while it may not be as rich as army food, it is convenient. One of the store's most popular options is an emergency meal kit which includes meals such as chili macaroni, chicken noodle soup, pastas and desserts. It retails for $199 for 56 servings or $279 for 60 servings. 

Diet said while food with a stable shelf life has been a popular option lately, it's not the only way the retailer is doing brisk business these days. 

"We have lots of rubber gloves we've been selling, we have latex chemical resistant gloves, flashlights, first aid kits, bandages, hand soap, we just got more surgical masks in yesterday."

It's an 'I-told-you-so' moment for Forest City Surplus, the only store in town that outfits both bomb-proof bunkers and bug-out bags for the savvy survivalist looking to thrive in the apocalypse.

Diet is quick to point out that while the store is luckier than most given its specialized inventory, the strict government restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus have also affected their business. 

"Overall, we're doing okay," he said. "I think it definitely has an impact on the way we're operating. We can't allow customers to browse through our store."

For people looking to strike things off an apocalypse prep-list, the store is mostly blocked off, with the exception of cash registers and a few popular items. Diet said the staff is more than happy to pass along your gas mask, hatchet or folding if you order online or pull up for curbside pickup.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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