Supermarkets will work with each other to ensure their shelves are stocked during COVID-19. Image by James Gourley/AAP PHOTOS

litigation and regulation

ACCC grants powers to counter panic-buying

2020-03-24 11:48:05

The competition watchdog is giving supermarket rivals amnesty to coordinate supply and logistics so vulnerable consumers aren’t left empty handed amid unprecedented coronavirus panic-buying.

The ACCC announced Tuesday that Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, IGA supplier Metcash and others would be given temporary permission to cooperate when liaising with manufacturers, suppliers, and transport and logistics providers to keep their shelves adequately stocked during the pandemic. 

The interim rules do not allow supermarkets to agree on retail prices for products while grocery retailers, suppliers, manufacturers and transport groups can choose to opt out of any arrangements.

Competition law usually prohibits certain market conduct between supermarkets and the new agreement essentially provides temporary protection from prosecution and during this “unprecedented demand for groceries”. 

“This (agreement) is essentially due to unnecessary panic buying, and the logistics challenge this presents, rather than an underlying supply problem,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said on Tuesday. 

Panic buying has resulted in surging sales at supermarkets in recent weeks but many stores have faced periods without essential items – such as toilet paper and non-perishable foods – being available.

Most outlets have imposed limits on the take home of certain products while Coles and Woolworths have limited store access to the elderly and vulnerable on the first hour of trade every weekend.

Coles on Tuesday extended its Community Hour initiative to also allow doctors, nurses, paramedics, hospital and ambulance staff, police, firefighters and emergency service workers access the store early on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

From Thursday, emergency services and health workers holding an AHPRA card, their workplace ID, or wearing their work uniform will be allowed into Coles early.