Australian supermarkets are stepping up efforts to ensure all members of the community have access to groceries as panicked shoppers continue to strip shelves of essentials over fears of a lockdown due to the spread of COVID-19.
Woolworths is introducing an early morning shopping hour for seniors and people with disability to access essential items, and in New South Wales, the retailer is supplying packs of toilet to the elderly via volunteer service Meals on Wheels.
From Tuesday March 17 until at least Friday March 20, stores will open from 7am to 8am exclusively for the elderly and those with disability, before opening to all customers.
Access to the store during this period will require a relevant Government issued concession card.
Woolworths Supermarkets managing director Claire Peters said the move was prompted by unprecedented demand in supermarkets over the past week, “which has seen many elderly and vulnerable people in the community missing out on vital items”.
“This temporary measure will give [the elderly], and those with a disability, the opportunity to shop before our stores officially open – helping them obtain the essential items they need most in a less crowded environment,” she said.
“We continue to encourage all Australians to be mindful of those in our communities who might need extra help at this time. Now – more than ever – we need to be kind to each other, especially to those most vulnerable.”
As part of Woolworths’ Meals on Wheels partnership, a 4-pack of toilet paper will be hand delivered to seniors along with their usual prepared meals after volunteers reported difficulty sourcing these items as part of Meals on Wheels’ shopping assistance program.
“We run special shopping assistance programs for the elderly at various Meals on Wheels branches around NSW and our volunteers have faced challenges in sourcing products such as toilet paper for those we support,” Meals on Wheels NSW CEO, Les MacDonald said.
“We have an amazing network of local Meals on Wheels staff and volunteers who can make small, but important initiatives like these possible in challenging times – and we truly do deliver ‘more than just a meal.”
Woolworths said it intends to provide support to other state based Meals on Wheels organisations over the coming weeks.
With additional orders of toilet paper failing to satisfy demand, the retailer is working with suppliers to prioritise the production of smaller packs so that from next week, more packs will be available to customers online and in-store.
Coles CEO Steven Cain advises of further product limits in customer update
Meanwhile, Coles has introduced further measures to allow more shoppers access to goods, following on from recent restrictions on toilet paper.
Coles CEO Steven Cain said in a letter to customers that pasta, flour, dried rice, paper towels, paper tissues and hand sanitisers will be limited to two items per customer, with further limits on additional items put in place at certain stores.
“As the situation around Coronavirus continues to develop, we believe that everyone in the community should have access to their share of grocery items, particularly the elderly,” he said.
Cain said while he appreciated the “compassion from customers respecting these limits”, he called for respect and support for team members who are working hard to manage the surge in activity.
“I would ask all customers to continue to respect and support our team
members and our Customer Care and Coles Online call centres, particularly if a product is unavailable or the checkout queues are longer than normal,” he said.
Coles is also following Woolworths move last week to temporarily suspend change-of-mind refunds in a bid to discourage over-purchasing.
“If you have already purchased additional items you no longer want, please look at donating them to community organisations or neighbours who have been struggling to purchase them during this time.”
Last week, Australian retailers called on state governments to temporarily lift curfews on supermarket deliveries in order to ease shortages as a result of Coronavirus panic.
Inside FMCG is not affiliated with Coles or Woolworths.
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