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Despite steady supply, Woolworths has begun rationing rice as well as toilet paper in response to coronavirus panic buying

Jack Derwin
  • Woolworths has now restricted purchases of rice packages 2 kilograms and above to one per customer.
  • It follows similar restrictions on toilet paper and hand sanitiser, as the coronavirus outbreak drives panic buying across Australian stores.
  • Shortages in stores appear to be entirely demand-driven, with no evidence that the coronavirus has restricted the supply of essential items.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

First, they came for our toilet paper, then our hand sanitiser, now our rice.

As the coronavirus outbreak drives some Australians into a panic buying frenzy, Woolworths has had to expand limits on purchases of certain in-demand items.

"As you may have read, or seen for yourself, these are unusual and challenging times," Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci wrote to its Rewards Club members on Thursday night. "We know it can be frustrating when we don’t have the products you need."

"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 common-sense limits to a few products."

Having already limited toilet paper to four packs per customer and hand sanitiser to two, Banducci revealed in the email that the company was extending it to packs of rice 2 kilograms and over. The frenzy has even forced hand sanitiser to be moved behind the customer service desk.

To be sure, the supply of each of these items hasn't been affected, with shortages purely demand-driven. As images flood social media of empty shelves and shoppers heaping their trolleys full of toilet paper, panic buying has only been exacerbated as the fear of missing out takes hold.

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"The makers of Kleenex, Sorbent, Quilton and Woolworths own range of toilet paper have all increased their production to meet this very unusual demand," Banducci said.

All, Banducci noted, have local Australian-based facilities across New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Western Australia. The implication being that coronavirus hardly threatens production or supply. Similarly, there's no suggestion that the outbreak will disrupt other essential items getting to grocery stores.

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Meanwhile, supermarket rivals Coles, Costco and Aldi have implemented their own restrictions on toilet paper but have not yet extended it to other "essential items".

"To ensure all of our customers have access to toilet paper, a temporary purchase limit of four packs per customer transaction will now apply in-store and online," a Coles spokesperson told Business Insider Australia. "This will help us maintain stock levels in stores while our suppliers increase local production and our distribution centres increase deliveries."

"While there may be some temporary stock shortages, the vast majority of products in our stores and via Coles online remain available for customers."

Woolworths said it was monitoring the situation and could introduce more restrictions still if new shortages sprung up.

Australia is not alone, with similar panic-fuelled shopping sprees taking place in the US, Hong Kong, Italy and Japan and France.