When the skies turn grey and the wind howls along the eastern coastline, shoppers head to supermarkets and convenience stores, to stock up on the essentials. Unsurprisingly, bottled water, bread and toilet paper disappear from the shelves.
But in the Atlantic provinces, there's a new bad-weather staple: storm chips.
Maritimers can tell when a storm is on the horizon by the state of the snack-food aisle. Chip shelves are ravaged, with a few forlorn bags left askew in the wake. It's become such a phenomenon that Instagram and Twitter are full of storm-chip stories – finding your favourite flavour in the fray, or pictures showcasing the aftermath of a snack binge.
It started in 2014, when CBC Halifax host Stephanie Domet first tweeted the now-iconic hashtag. Soon, #stormchips was trending nationally, and during every storm since.
Haligonian Janice Fuller recalls learning about the trend on social media, and now instinctively stocks up on snacks whenever there's a storm warning. "We in the Maritimes are known for being friendly, unpretentious, and maybe a bit self-deprecating," Fuller said. "Chips are both cheap and tasty, basically as unpretentious as you can get. Storm pâté doesn't quite have the same ring to it."
Fuller's favourite brand is New Brunswick's Covered Bridge, which capitalized on the trend by creating their own branded bag of Storm Chips. The jumbo bag has their four top-selling varieties: dill, ketchup, salt and vinegar and barbecue – a "flurry of flavours" according to Covered Bridge president Ryan Albright.
"When there is a storm that's going to come, people will stock up on snack food. No questions about it, I think it's a Maritime thing," said Albright. Covered Bridge launched the Storm Chips jumbo bag in 2015, with a relatively small order of 300,000 bags on the shelves. "We ordered more than I wanted to at the start, and it was a good thing that we did because we sold out immediately."
Other companies feel the boost as well. While Old Dutch potato chips are a Canadian favourite, Chris Murphy, the company's senior director of sales for Atlantic Canada, notes the biggest sellers in the region remain the Cheese Sticks and Party Mix, both under the Humpty Dumpty label.
"We notice that it's very helpful to increase sales and freshen our product when a storm warning's there," Murphy said. "As soon as the radio announcers announce that you have to watch out for the forecast, then people rush to the grocery store on the way home."
But don't take Twitter's word for it. Ipsos Five, a division of the Ipsos Reid polling group, found that Atlantic Canadians eat more potato chips per capita than anywhere else in the country.
Fuller has a theory about why.
"We've got a strong sense of identity and community in the Maritimes, and it feels like the whole storm-chips thing brought people together," Fuller explained.
"We're a tough bunch, and maybe it's a way of kind of poking fun at overly zealous storm preparedness… like, "You know the only thing Maritimers need to get through a snowstorm? A bag o' chips."