Supermarkets reinstate product limits at first signs of panic buying in Melbourne

Supermarkets in Victoria have witnessed a resurgence of panic buying as COVID-19 cases rise and more than 1000 troops are called in to help fight the problem.

Both Woolworths and Coles have reinstated purchase limits on toilet paper, hand sanitiser, paper towel, flour, sugar, pasta, mince, UHT milk, eggs and rice.

Woolworths has a two item limit on the above products, while Coles has gone a step further on toilet paper and paper towels, with a one product limit in place for those items.

Woolworths said in a statement on Wednesday that it saw elevated demand in the previous 24 hours, and is currently monitoring the situation.

“We understand many Victorians are anxious about the recent community outbreak, but they can be assured our stores will remain open with plenty of stock in our warehouses to replenish our shelves. While we have healthy stock levels to draw on, we’re taking this precautionary step to help prevent excessive buying and support appropriate social distancing in our Victorian stores,” Woolworths Supermarkets managing director Claire Peters said.

The purchase limits at Woolworths will only apply to Victorian stores and online orders, while Coles has put the measures in place at stores in Victoria and Lavington, Albury and Deniliquin in NSW.

Coles Group CEO Steven said, “We ask that customers continue to shop normally so that everyone can have access to the food and groceries they need.”

Discount grocer Aldi told Inside FMCG that “it is not introducing restrictions but is monitoring the situation closely”.

Australian Food and Grocery Council acting CEO Dr Geoffrey Annison has assured the public that the food, beverage and grocery sectors are working hard to ensure there is stock in supermarkets.

“We have a very strong, reliable and resilient Food and grocery sector that worked hard to make it possible for essential products to reach Australians right around the country. We are proud of how responsive and agile the Australian food, beverage and grocery sector has been during the COVID-19 crisis. We thank the companies, their staff and supply chains for keeping the shelves stocked for all Aussies,” Dr Annison said.

Evidence of stockpiling can be seen online, as images of empty supermarket shelves flood social media once again.

A reporter for The Australian shared an image of nearly bare shelves of toilet paper at a Woolworths supermarket in Oakleigh, Melbourne on Wednesday morning.

Professor Hean Tat Keh, professor of marketing at Monash Business School said consumers’ panic buying in response to COVID-19 can be viewed as decision-making under uncertainty.

“As consumers are not sure how things will turn out, they ‘follow the herd’ by hoarding on items such as toilet paper, face masks, canned goods, etc. The fear of the unknown becomes salient and may override rational behaviour,” he said.

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