News National Food for thought: Why Victorians won’t go hungry during lockdown

Food for thought: Why Victorians won’t go hungry during lockdown

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Victorians will still have enough food to eat even as Stage 4 restrictions threaten to squeeze the state’s supply chain, experts say.

But shoppers will still have to brace for some changes.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has moved to quell fears of empty shelves after industry groups and the federal government raised concerns the new rules may hinder supplies.

From midnight on Sunday, supermarket distribution centres and medical warehouses must reduce their capacity by a third to comply with the restrictions.

Under other deals, red meat processors will operate at 66 per cent of capacity, although abattoirs with 25 or fewer staff will be exempt.

Poultry producers will reduce to 80 per cent capacity.

Don’t panic!

With less staff allowed in factories or abattoirs, some industry groups fear they won’t be able to meet the demand of Victorians in lockdown.

But Dr Flavio Macau, senior lecturer in supply chain management at Edith Cowan University, said we shouldn’t be worried.

Partly because only Victoria is in lockdown. Not the whole of Australia.

“We are not seeing a lockdown at a country level, so you can reorganise your supply chain and bring in excess capacity from other states into Victoria,” he told The New Daily. 

“It’s the decision of the supply chain, not the states or premiers.

“It’s about these big businesses making their decisions to serve their customers in all their markets.”

Plans are under way in South Australia – home to most of Australia’s toilet paper manufacturing – to manage supply issues related to the Victorian lockdown.

In a bulletin to local producers, Food South Australia said the situation continued to be “highly dynamic”, with a heightened risk likely in SA in the coming weeks.

Businesses in other states and territories can pick up some of the slack, but exclusively looking to its neighbours isn’t a quick fix.

It will take time to restructure supply chains, while moving tonnes of meat from an abattoir in Queensland to Melbourne could take up to a week.

We’re all in this together

Major supermarkets like Woolworths, Coles, IGA and Aldi all buy from national suppliers, so it is in their best interests to make sure Victorian supermarket shelves are adequately stocked.

That’s according to Curtin University associate professor of supply chain and networks Paul Alexander.

“Our companies, being national, will tend to make those decisions for us and provide the same level of service as much as they can across the nation,” he told The New Daily. 

“They’re on the phones all over the country trying to make up the shortfall.”

woolworths coles supermarket deliveries
Inside Woolworths’ new delivery hub in Melbourne’s Notting Hill. Photo: Woolworths

He added this rapid restructuring of Victoria’s supply chains may lead to minor shortages in supermarkets in other states and territories.

“But I can’t see everybody rioting in the streets here because we have shortages that can be related to the Victorian situation,” he said.

“This is our problem just as much as everything else – we’re operating as a nation.”

What can you expect?

However, Victorians may not be able to find all their favourite products on supermarket shelves.

“You’ll have all the basic stuff, but you might not have all the variations as well,” Associate Professor Alexander said.

“If everybody is calm and thinks about everyone else, it will probably take 10 to 20 days to balance it all up again.”

The price of some items might also increase due to the added costs of moving stock from interstate.

What can I do to help?

Stay calm and only buy what you need.

There is no reason to fill up your trolley with three months’ worth of toilet paper or canned tomatoes.

All that does is disrupt the supply chains of supermarkets, butchers and grocery shops.

“Supermarkets like Coles and Woolies are very good at predicting demand in every shop they have for tomorrow and the next day,” Associate Professor Alexander said.

“When people panic-buy, the shops do not know what they’re going to buy tomorrow. Do they just purchase a huge amount and restock?

“If they’re not sure that’s what the new demand is, they might not take that risk.”