Woolworths rations rice as panic buying spreads

Press/Media: Expert Comment


First it was toilet paper and hand sanitiser – now Australia's largest retailer is rationing packets of rice as panic hoarding by shoppers alarmed about the growing coronavirus crisis clears supermarket shelves.

In an email to loyalty scheme members on Thursday night, Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci said the retailer would limit purchases of large bags of rice (2 kilos and more) to one per customer to ensure there were enough supplies to go around.

"These are unusual and challenging times," said Mr Banducci, a veteran retailer. "We know it can be frustrating when we don't have the products you need, or when delivery or pick-up windows are filled more than usual.

"It's worth noting that the vast majority of products aren't affected and most stores aren't seeing significant shortages. But to make sure everyone has access to essential items, we've introduced some commonsense limits to a few products," he said.

"We're constantly monitoring the situation and will do our best to keep all products freely available to everyone. However, if we see new shortages, we may introduce other limits," he said.

"We'll only do this if we think it's absolutely necessary and to help make sure all customers can access the products they need."

Fear of missing out has triggered the worst panic buying since the Millennium bug scare in 2000, and has forced manufacturers to step up production.

On Wednesday, Woolworths restricted toilet paper purchases to four packs per customer per transaction and hand sanitiser, where it was available, to two packs.

Costco, Aldi and Coles followed suit on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Coles has imposed a four-pack limit on toilet paper, Costco is limiting customers to two 48-packs of toilet paper, while Aldi is restricting customers to four units of toilet paper and enforcing a long-standing 10-unit limit on select pantry products such as long-life milk, tissues, paper towels and hygiene products.

Panic hoarding, known as hamsterkauf in German, has also led to runs on tissues and paper towels, long life pantry items such as UHT milk, flour, canned foods, pasta, rice and bread mixes.

"It's easy for consumers to get swept up in fear when you're dealing with the bare necessities of life," said Jana Bowden, a consumer engagement expert and associate professor in the department of marketing at Macquarie University.

Period5 Mar 2020

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