Australia markets close in 1 hour 15 minutes

Woolies has set a limit on how much toilet paper customers can buy, but the Retailers Association says there is no risk of shortages

Sharon Masige
  • Woolworths customers can only buy four packs of toilet paper, as shoppers scramble for the item amid coronavirus fears.
  • Images posted on social media show empty shelves in supermarkets after customers clean out toilet paper stock.
  • However, the Australian Retailers Association has said there is no risk of shortages.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Woolies is clamping down on toilet paper hoarders.

Despite risk experts advising Australians not to panic about the coronavirus outbreak, some people have been rushing to their closest supermarket to stock up on supplies, especially toilet paper.

Images of empty shelves have been popping up on social media, with the hashtag #panicbuying even trending on Twitter on Monday. The shortages have largely been caused by the panic buying itself – not any disruption to supply due to the coronavirus.

Toilet paper was one of the most popular items shoppers were lapping up.

As a result, Woolworths has cracked down on toilet paper hoarders by setting a limit on how many packs you can buy.

You can only buy four packs of toilet paper, both in-store and online.

"It will help shore up stock levels as suppliers ramp up local production and deliveries in response to higher than usual demand," Woolworths said in a statement.

"Our teams are continuing to work hard on restocking stores with long-life food and groceries from our distribution centres."

The supermarket added that the "vast majority" of its products will remain available as normal.

"We apologise to customers for the inconvenience caused by temporary stock shortages and thank them for their patience."

Coles told Business Insider Australia via email that despite some shortages, most of its products in store and online will be available.

“Coles is in ongoing contact with suppliers, government stakeholders and transport partners to determine how best to improve availability on popular products, such as long-life pantry staples and healthcare items," a Coles spokesperson said.

"We have increased deliveries from our distribution centres and our teams are working hard to fill the shelves as quickly as possible. While there may be some temporary stock shortages, the vast majority of products in our stores and via Coles online remain available for customers.”

There is no risk of shortages, says the Australian Retailers Association

Russell Zimmerman, Executive Director of the Australian Retailers Association, said in a statement that while shoppers might find shelves empty for a certain product, "warehouse inventories remain high". He added that there aren't any risks of shortages and if there are, it'll be temporary.

“We’re comfortable there’s no risk to the availability of food or household essentials; with major retailers maintaining high inventories, if a brand you wish to purchase isn’t available today, it’ll probably be back on the shelf tomorrow,” he said.

Zimmerman also urged Australians "to go about their business as per usual at present.”

According to Lifehacker, Australia has three major toilet paper suppliers. These include ABC Tissue – the parent company of Quilton – Asaleo, which owns the Purex brand, and Kimberly-Clark Australia, the parent company of Kleenex.

A Kimberly-Clark Australia spokesperson told Lifehacker Australia that while its Kleenex toilet paper in Australia is seeing more demand, the company has "sufficient supply".

Hand sanitiser was also in high demand

In February, Coles told Business Insider Australia its handwash and hand sanitisers were running low amid coronavirus fears. The company, at the time also expected shortages for other non-food related products.

“Products such as antibacterial handwashes and hand sanitiser products are already low in stock and there are shortages forecast for non-food items like stationery, clothing, [and] electrical goods,” a Coles spokesperson said. “Coles has also experienced delays in refrigeration equipment being shipped out of China for our store renewals.”