Coronavirus panic shopping means some have months’ worth of toilet paper while others can’t get basic supplies
Tiffany Kent says she thought it was funny when she first heard people were stocking up on toilet paper in case they contracted coronavirus because it sounded ridiculous.
But then she went to her local supermarket in Bendigo, in central Victoria, and saw empty shelves without any toilet paper, rice, pasta, sanitary pads or painkillers.
Ms Kent said the issue of people stocking up on large amounts of essential supplies, is most affecting families like her own, on strict budgets.
“I have a budget for everything from food to petrol and it is pretty tight,” she said.
Ms Kent is a chef and works reduced hours so she has time with her two-year-old daughter Poppy.
She said she has tried to shop online for essential supplies, but many products were out of stock, and it is difficult to travel to multiple supermarkets with a toddler.
She said it is really scary how difficult it has become to get some items.
Ms Kent is also worried about the costs of groceries going up, with basic supplies in such high demand.
She said she usually shops for specials and relies on items like pasta and rice to be the cheap part of her food bill.
“If the prices get pushed up as they inevitably will because of this, there is less money left over for anything else,” she said.
Ms Kent works as a chef at a childcare centre and said she doesn’t know if she will receive all the food listed in the most recent food order she placed because of low supplies.
She said it is frustrating because she believes a significant amount of food bought in bulk will be thrown out.
“There is no doubt in my mind the things people are purchasing is going to go to waste, they just aren’t going to get used,” she said.
No toilet paper for those who need it most
Robert Miller has ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease, which causes constant diarrhea.
The North Albury man said the lack of toilet paper in some supermarkets had become stressful.
“We have started to get close to needing some soon, we are down to about four rolls, which is two days’ worth for me,” he said.
When he was last at his local Woolworths, he said the entire aisle that usually had toilet paper and tissues was empty.
“There are people like me who need the toilet paper and people who don’t need it are taking it all,” he said.
Mr Miller said he works in a casual job and cannot afford to stock up.
“People on low incomes like myself can’t buy in bulk, people with a lot of money are buying up in bulk,” he said.
Emma King, the Victorian Council of Social Services chief executive, said stockpiling household goods is inherently selfish.
“By buying a trolley load of toilet paper or 40 bags of oats, you’re making it harder for others to get what they need,” she said.
Retailer has never seen runs on groceries like this before
Russell Zimmerman, the Australian Retailers Association executive director, said the stockpiling of groceries initially started in some suburbs in major cities with large Asian communities.
But he said since then, more supermarkets have had customers bulk buying.”Panic actually breeds panic,” he said.
“So if I go and do it and you see me do it and your neighbour sees me do it, everybody else jumps on the bandwagon.”
Mr Zimmerman said he does not remember ever seeing runs on grocery items as we have seen with coronavirus bulk buying.
He said the items most affected are toilet paper, masks, sanitiser, dried goods, handwash and even flour.
Mr Zimmerman said many supermarkets want to increase the level of stock they have, but there are issues that make it difficult.
“Local councils actually have restrictions on when deliveries can be made,” he said.
“Coles and Woolworths have a view [that] if there was plenty of stuff on the shelf, if product like toilet rolls and sanitiser could be [bought] and are there in quantities, you would probably minimise the panic.”
He said he would like to see some of those restrictions lifted for a short period of time.
Mr Zimmerman said it is important consumers understand they do not need to buy large quantities of food.
He said he had heard of people buying volumes of toilet paper that will take them up to eight months to use.
Mr Zimmerman does not think supermarkets will raise their prices because of panic buying — but said there are likely to be fewer specials and some suppliers may have to raise costs to make products around the clock.