News Coronavirus Panic buying triggers supermarket price hikes as retailers plead for calm
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Panic buying triggers supermarket price hikes as retailers plead for calm

coronavirus fruit vegetable prices
Cauliflowers are one product hit hard by price rises. Photo: ABC
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Supermarket prices are on the rise as cases of coronavirus continue to increase around the country.

South Australian disability pensioner Lynette Holmes can no longer afford several items on her shopping list due to the skyrocketing cost of fresh food.

The 64-year-old said she had seen supermarket prices soar in the past week just as new social distancing protocols came into effect.

“Seven dollars for lettuce is ridiculous and $15 for five kilos of potatoes is ridiculous,” Ms Holmes said.

“I managed to get a four-kilo bag [of potatoes] today for $5.80 at Woolworths.

“That was the cheapest I’ve seen around at the moment.”

Fresh produce ‘triples’ in price

Master Grocers Australia CEO Jos De Bruin said Ms Holmes’ shopping experience had become a familiar story.

“We have seen the tripling in prices, and with items like lettuces up around the $10 mark at some [stores],” Mr De Bruin said.

“We’ve seen celery increase by three times, we’ve seen cauliflower increase in price.”

At time of publication, prices for sugar snap peas at one supermarket were set at $6.99 each, a kilogram of roma tomatoes was $9.99 and one cauliflower cost $14.99.

Mr De Bruin said the food retail market has been rocked by panic buyers and people stocking up before self-isolating.

“[Australia’s food retail market] was a market that’s quite controlled, it’s a market that’s quite predictable,” he said.

“Now we’ve gone into a market that’s completely uncontrolled and unpredictable.

“The philosophy around economics is that prices go up, so scarcity drives prices up, and that’s what’s happening with our fruit and vegetables.”

coronavirus fruit vegetable prices
Potatoes for sale at an independent grocer. Photo: ABC

‘Huge added cost’ for businesses

With demand outstripping supply, the food transport industry is under pressure and businesses are becoming strained.

“We [independent grocers] are doing a lot more online ordering, we’re picking and packing orders, we’re delivering for free,” Mr De Bruin said.

“The cost to do business has gone through the roof, exponentially.

“People might see a huge spike in sales, but what people are not seeing is the huge added cost to do business.”

Short supply, high demand

In a statement, Woolworths said price increases had been driven by a range of factors.

“We’ve seen an extraordinary level of demand for groceries across the country over the past week, including on fresh fruit and vegetables,” a spokesperson said.

“This elevated demand has impacted the availability of a few vegetable lines that are typically in shorter supply at this time of year across the whole market.

“We’re working closely with our fresh food suppliers to manage the impact of this increased demand, alongside the environmental impact of drought and unseasonal weather in different parts of the country.

“We understand the pressures facing Australian households right now and remain focused on offering quality fresh food to our customers at competitive prices.”

coronavirus fruit vegetable prices
Tomato prices are also rising. Photo: ABC

Retailers call for calm

Independent Retailers Association chairman Colin Shearing said it was time shoppers returned to their normal buying behaviour.

“What is happening at the moment is this ridiculous and absurd panic buying, thinking the world is going to end,” Mr Shearing said.

“Just relax, go back to your normal buying habits.

“If everyone did that in Australia right now, this would be resolved.”

Mr De Bruin said prices would come back down eventually.

“When normality comes back, we will see all these prices come back to where they need to be,” he said.

In a statement, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said it “cannot prevent or take action to stop excessive pricing”.

“[The ACCC] has no role in setting prices,” a spokesperson said.

“If a business makes misleading claims about the reason for price increases, it will be breaching the Australian consumer law.”

ABC