Why Coles imposed product limits on painkillers, toilet paper and meat as Woolworths follows suit

Lauren FerriNCA NewsWire
Near empty shelves at Woolworths.
Camera IconNear empty shelves at Woolworths. Credit: News Corp Australia

Woolworths has become the latest supermarket to reintroduce buying limits on select products across the country as shelves remain empty as a result of supply-chain issues and panic buying.

With shelves resembling panic-buying scenes of March 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic first swept through the country, the supermarket giant has been forced to introduce nationwide buying limits for customers.

As of Thursday, Woolies announced the limit of two packs per customer on toilet paper and painkillers.

It follows Coles move applying limits to the same items, as well as meat.

Camera IconWoolworths has become the latest supermarket to reintroduce buying limits. NCA NewsWire/Sarah Matray Credit: News Corp Australia

“This is a precautionary move following recent food and grocery supply chain constraints and pockets of increased demand across select categories,” Woolworths said in a statement.

“The limits will ensure more customers have fair access to toilet paper and analgesics.”

In addition to the nationwide limits, West Australians will have a limit of two packs of mince, sausages and chicken products “due to signs of excessive buying”.

The supermarket still has purchase limits on rapid antigen tests.

Woolworths Director of Stores Jeanette Fenske said she understands it is an “anxious time” for customers across the country.

“We will remain open and operational as an essential service,” Ms Fenske said.

Supply Chain Issues
Camera IconNot much to choose from here. David Crosling Credit: News Corp Australia

“We will continue to closely monitor product availability across our stores, with stock continuing to be sent to stores daily. Customers will notice some gaps on shelves but we’re doing all that we can to meet demand.”

“We encourage everyone to be mindful of others in the community and to continue shopping in reasonable quantities.”

Meanwhile, Coles customers are also only allowed to purchase two packets of painkillers at a time and one pack of toilet paper.

They join the two-pack limit on mince and sausages and a two-pack or six-fillet limit on chicken breasts and thighs in every state other than Western Australia.

Coles also has a one-pack limit on Covid-19 rapid antigen tests.

Central Operations executive general manager Kevin Gunn said supply chain issues were the main factor behind the empty shelves.

“From a meat perspective, the challenges across the meat supply chain have been well publicised … we have stock coming in every day and just selling throughout the day,” Mr Gunn told 2GB.

“We put these limits in place for us to give all our customers a chance to buy these products and it’s about trying to support the community.”

While meat is facing massive supply issues across the country, demand for medicinal products has increased dramatically.

“We’re just trying to give all our customers a chance to buy those products,” Mr Gunn said.

“I always think about myself as a customer that those painkillers is something that when you go buy, you need it now so we just want to make sure they’re available for all of our customers.”

While there’s no sign of things easing up anytime soon with supply chains being decimated, customers are being told stores could remain like this for weeks.

Supply Chain Issues
Camera IconToilet paper is again in hot demand. David Crosling Credit: News Corp Australia

Up to a third of staff at Coles distribution centres are absent, while 10 per cent of in-store staff are also off.

“We’ve had some changes that we welcome in the past few days from both state and federal government that allows team members to return to work in certain settings, subject to very stringent safety protocols,” Mr Gunn said.

“We’ve asked all of our team members who work part time what extra hours they can do. We’re also have been bringing on new team members in using them in different locations.”

The supermarket giant is urging customers to “only purchase what they need”.

A spokesman said inventory levels are already lower in the post-Christmas period, with distribution centres receiving less inbound deliveries and fewer team members available to process and dispatch stock.

Aldi has no limits in place but stock availability has also been impacted for the same reasons.

Chief executive Tom Daunt wrote to customers, saying labour shortages due to Covid-19 cases has put many business partners as well as Aldi short of staff.

“Rest assured, there isn’t a food shortage, just complications and delays associated with less employees,” Mr Daunt said.

Originally published as Why Coles imposed product limits on painkillers, toilet paper and meat as Woolworths follows suit

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