Coles pulls RATs from online sale, introduces product limits in WA as supply chain pressure mounts

Adrian LoweThe West Australian
A hiring blitz and restrictions on purchases - including RATs - are among Coles’ attempts to ease pressure on the supply chain amid Omicron coronavirus outbreaks across Australia.
Camera IconA hiring blitz and restrictions on purchases - including RATs - are among Coles’ attempts to ease pressure on the supply chain amid Omicron coronavirus outbreaks across Australia. Credit: Ian Waldie/Bloomberg

Coles has pulled the sale of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests from its website as it battles what chief executive Steven Cain says is skyrocketing demand nationwide.

As most of the country battles outbreaks the Omicron coronavirus variant, severely disrupting supply chains, the supermarket giant has tightened recently reintroduced purchase limits and launched a hiring blitz in a bid to counter shortages.

And despite Perth being less affected than other parts of the country, panic buying has returned to the city’s supermarkets, with essentials stripped from stores.

Mr Cain told customers on Thursday that it would take several weeks to recover from staff shortages caused by COVID cases and isolation requirements.

“Fewer people are available to work in Australia - including in the food industry,” he said. “At Coles, this has resulted in disruptions to deliveries from our suppliers, which in turn has impacted the availability of some products in our stores.

“While our team are working hard to get stock back onto our shelves, we expect it will take several weeks to fully recover.”

Perth shoppers may face empty shelves at supermarkets as supply chain woes hit from logistics staff either having COVID or having to isolate and panic buying takes hold.
Coles in Innaloo.
Camera IconA rush on products in Perth supermarkets has led to the reintroduction of purchase limits. Credit: Supplied/The West

Coles followed Mr Cain’s email by restricting meat purchases in WA stores, including on chicken, mince and sausages. Rival Woolworths has applied similar restrictions in WA.

Millions of rapid antigen tests — only permitted to be sold in WA from this week — were being delivered to stores each week, with orders from suppliers also occurring, Mr Cain said.

“Customer demand for rapid antigen tests has skyrocketed over the past two weeks,” he said.

“While demand remains at current levels we expect it will be a few weeks before there are enough tests for every customer who wants to buy them.”

In store purchases are limited to one pack per customer but they cannot be purchased online at this stage.

Mr Cain also told customers to prepare for preferred brands or product sizes to be available — echoing Woolworths boss Brad Banducci’s message to shoppers late last week.

“We are hiring additional team members across all parts of our business, and we are fast-tracking the process to get them where they are needed as quickly as possible,” Mr Cain.

”We’re asking customers to bear with us and be flexible for now by trying a different brand or product until we can get the entire range back into stores.”

It comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled changes to isolation rules in a bid to get more people back to work, which he claimed would start to relax pressure on supply chains.

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