Buying limits have been swiftly reinstated on almost all major food products along with toilet paper and face masks as Victorian retailers and supermarkets reel from the state’s snap lockdown.
Major supermarket chains Woolworths and Coles were quick to act as shoppers flocked to their outlets on Friday afternoon, announcing the changes just hours after Premier Daniel Andrews’ announcement that the state would re-enter stage four lockdown.
A two-item per customer limit was placed by both companies on nearly every food product in-store in an effort to curb panic buying. Coles shoppers will only be able to purchase one pack of toilet paper, however, where Woolworths shoppers can purchase two.
Significant shortages on items are unlikely as the companies’ both assured shoppers their distribution centres are well-stocked. Matt Swindells, Coles’ chief operating officer, told The Age the company had kept extra stock in its warehouses as a preparation for a third lockdown.
“We’re calling this round nine, as it’s the ninth time we’ve seen panic buying in the last 12 months,” he said. “Whilst we’re fully mobilising the supply chain to recover stock, in this initial period we want to make sure everybody can get their fair share.
“We’ve held an elevated inventory position for some time as a contingency plan for this. The challenge is not ‘do we have enough’, the challenge is moving it into stores quickly and safely.”
Mr Andrews said there was no need to panic buy toilet paper or other groceries as supermarkets will remain open during Victoria’s five-day lockdown.
“You are allowed to go and shop, supplies are adequate. There is no need to be doing any of that,” he said.
“You just put all manner of pressure on some of the hardest workers, some of the best Victorians, the people who are … driving the trucks from the distribution centre to the supermarket, the people who are stacking the shelves.
“Please. You can go shopping. That’s allowed. For the stuff you need when you need it. And there are adequate supplies.”
The head of Australia’s retailing association said Victoria’s snap five-day lockdown was a “devastating blow” for local retailers and hospitality venues which were gearing up for bumper sales on Valentine’s Day.
“Sadly, there won’t be much love in the air for Victorian businesses this Valentine’s Day,” Paul Zahra, the head of the Australian Retailers Association, said.
“Last-minute shopping will be curtailed and romantic dinner date plans have been dashed. That’s a massive blow for restaurants who would have been fully booked for one of their busiest nights of the year.”
Fred Harrison, the chief executive of Victoria’s largest independent supermarket chain Ritchies Supa IGA, said Valentine’s Day would be a “complication”.
“All those restaurants are going to be closed, so we’ve got a situation where we’re going to be chaotic over the weekend,” he said. “A lot of people crack a bottle of champagne for Valentine’s Day but they’re not going to be able to do that, so they’ll celebrate hard at home. Liquor sales are going to be enormous.”
Mr Swindells was more sanguine about a prospective Valentine’s Day rush, saying the pressure was on Victorians’ partners to cook up a romantic meal at home.
“Time to get online and look at some recipes to test your cooking skills out and pick a nice bottle of something to go with it,” he said.
Mr Zahra, a former chief executive of David Jones, said the “horrors” of 2020 had continued into the new year and urged states to form a consistent approach to dealing with new outbreaks.
“At the moment, businesses are at the mercy of the different approaches from the various premiers with very little planning time around what the latest restrictions mean,” he said.
“The uncertainty and confusion around ‘trigger points’ has been a confidence killer and one of the key lessons out of this pandemic is to have a nationally consistent approach, with clear criteria, so business can at least operate with some sort of certainty.”
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