It's not just toilet paper: Unexpected items now selling out

 

"Wow," said the woman on her phone as she walked around stripped shelves at a Woolworths store in a Sydney suburb.

"This toilet paper thing really isn't a joke. I thought it was just a meme - but there's nothing here."

Now, given Australia's new found love of hoarding hasn't stopped at loo roll, she could be saying wow a few more times.

Many of us already know pasta, rice and tinned tomatoes have been flying off the shelves.

But there are many other products, some unexpected, that shops are now running out of. Even some booze seems to be thinning out as we grapple with concerns over coronavirus.

Judging by the lack of flour and sugar in stores, many of us may use any enforced home time to bake up a storm. If not baking, then busily defrosting Lean Cuisine boxed dinners, which are also running low.

Woolworths has told news.com.au it now has limits on toilet roll, rice and hand sanitiser and could introduce more.

The supermarkets insist they're restocking shelves but the Woolworths CEO has admitted these are "unusual and challenging times".

The depleted state of the flour and sugar shelf at Coles Chatswood, in Sydney’s north.
The depleted state of the flour and sugar shelf at Coles Chatswood, in Sydney’s north.

News.com.au visited six supermarkets on Thursday. Two in a Sydney inner suburb and a further four in middle ring suburbs.

These included Woolworths, Coles and Aldi as well as an independent supermarket. We also had a look of BWS and Liquorland.

Firstly, it's worth noting that supermarkets still have lots of food and household products available. It's only a minority of stock that is running low.

Fresh food, in particular, was in abundance. And so it should be given the vast majority of our fresh food is grown right here.

What's happening isn't strictly speaking a shortage; we're just buying some things at a faster rate than stocks can be replenished.

A bit empty in Aldi.
A bit empty in Aldi.

PANDEMIC PANTRIES
Nevertheless, our scout around the supermarkets revealed multiples gaps on the shelves beyond toilet paper. And these gaps were common across most of the stores visited. Customers stared at the barren spaces where brands like CSR, Barilla, Sunrice and Maggi has once been.

Australians are stocking their pandemic pantries with plenty of other items alongside loo roll.

While some products have almost completely vanished, other items are dwindling, desperate for a top up.

In the former column is oats. Boxes of the quick cook breakfast classic were in the single fingers in most stores - in Aldi there was just a bare shelf.

The last lonely bags of lentils and dried beans sat waiting to be snatched at Coles and Woolworths in Pyrmont, close to Sydney's CBD. Baked beans were down to the last battered tins, as were kidney beans. Two-minute noodles were few and far between.

At a branch of the Miracle Asian supermarket, big bags of rice were barely the only type left.

Other foodstuffs were on the light side. Large bottles of canola oil had vanished, UHT milk was evaporating, tins of tuna were being swiftly scooped up.

Lean Cuisine was selling fast in Coles and Woolworths supermarkets.
Lean Cuisine was selling fast in Coles and Woolworths supermarkets.

FROZEN FOOD

Despite the taps having stayed on in each country where the virus has taken hold, shoppers were still putting water bottles into trolleys.

The frozen food aisle of all the stores was looking dishevelled with pizzas and pies a favourite.

An unexpected near sellout was Lean Cuisine meals. If you're a fan - and who isn't - you may have to wait for more to be delivered. The Thai green curry and salmon linguine varieties had already gone at Coles in Chatswood.

Just a few scattered boxes of Aldi's no-brand version "international cuisine" were left. Indeed Aldi's whole freezer section was very sad looking.

The situation wasn't consistent. Woolworths' Metro supermarket in Chatswood had an almost empty egg fridge with signs saying supply was impacted due to an "increase in demand". Yet in Coles, there were floor-to-ceiling eggs.

Just about the only eggs left at one Woolies store.
Just about the only eggs left at one Woolies store.

'CHALLENGING TIMES'

Woolworths' chief executive officer Brad Banducci said today "these are unusual and challenging times".

In a message to be sent to customers, seen by news.com.au, Mr Banducci said the "vast majority" of products weren't affected but limits were in place for toilet paper, rice and hand sanitiser.

"We're constantly monitoring the situation and will do our best to keep all products freely available to everyone. However, if we see new shortages, we may introduce other limits.

"We'll only do this if we think it's absolutely necessary and to help make sure all customers can access the products they need."

He asked for patience and that staff be respected.

A Coles spokeswoman took a different view saying the current situation was similar

to that of an impending cyclone or flood that often affects stores in northern Australia.

"As a result, we have comprehensive response plans in place across our network that cover contingencies including resourcing and product sourcing," the spokeswoman said.

She told news.com.au that Coles had increased deliveries to stores to improve availability on long-life pantry staples and healthcare items.

"While there may be some temporary stock shortages, the vast majority of products remain available for customers."

Beyond limiting loo roll purchases, Aldi refused to comment to news.com.au on any measures it was taking to reassure customers about current shelf shortages.

This used to be the headache tables display at Coles.
This used to be the headache tables display at Coles.

ILLUSION MAKES SHELVES LOOK FULLER
Away from food, Australians need never worry about headaches again. Given the almost total lack of pain relief tablets in some stores, every bathroom must have enough Nurofen to subdue an injured elephant.

Surface wipes, baby milk and sanitary pads were all but missing. Shoppers seem to have got the memo about hand washing with low stocks of soap.

Some aisles looked to have been "faced up". This is an old supermarket sleight of hand that gives the impression of a shelf plump with stock. But, if you looked closer, that row of shampoo was only a bottle or two deep.

If all else fails, we can live off Lindt bunnies, Cadbury eggs …
If all else fails, we can live off Lindt bunnies, Cadbury eggs …

UNEXPECTED ITEM SOLD OUT

Yet there were a number of food genres that had been left almost untouched. If you want to avoid the scrum for pasta sauce, settle for a chicken Korma instead - Indian foods had been left almost untouched.

And there are more than enough Lindt gold bunnies for everyone to scoff on at will.

It seems our panic buying hasn't caught on when it comes to booze. At least not yet.

Coles' Liquorland and Woolies' BWS stores still had lots of wine and beer. However, there looked to have been a small rush on Champagne and cask wine. Apparently some intend to ride out the coming weeks with quality, others with just quantity.

Aldi's liquor section was in poorer shape, with large gaps when it came to wine and slabs of beer swiped.

Corona beer, of all beers, was sold out at Liquorland.
Corona beer, of all beers, was sold out at Liquorland.

Perhaps the most surprising item out of stock, however, was in Liquorland.

An international beer with "fresh and vibrant flavour" that was great with "meals," the sign side below an empty shelf.

In the middle of Australia's coronavirus panic, the store had run out of Corona beer.

 

benedict.brook@news.com.au

Aldi was also running low in the freezer aisle.
Aldi was also running low in the freezer aisle.
Coles was in better shape.
Coles was in better shape.
… and Indian food.
… and Indian food.


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