Australia is starting to run low on pasta and rice as panic buying hits already drought-stricken supply.
Australia is starting to run low on pasta and rice as panic buying hits already drought-stricken supply.

Panic buyers decimate rice and pasta supplies

Australia is running low on pasta and rice after a drought-diminished harvest of wheat farmers and "three Christmases worth" of stock being emptied from shops.

Australian supermarket giant Coles says in the past three weeks the scale of panic buying and stockpiling as the coronavirus pandemic took hold was comparable to three festive seasons.

But this was without the company's usual six months of lead-up planning and stocking just for one.

Australia normally produces enough food for 75 million people, three times its population but fears of lockdowns due to COVID-19 sparked a national hoarding frenzy.

"We have done three Christmases in three consecutive weeks from a standing start," Coles chief operations officer Matthew Swindells said on Friday.

"When you see that immediate lift in demand across a network as large as Coles, it punches a huge stock hole in our supply lines and it takes time to recover."

On top of this, pasta and rice producers have struggled to keep up with the excessive demand which came on top of an already existing shortage.

Farmers who grow durum wheat crops, which is processed into pasta, say most of their remaining wheat supplies are needed to plant a winter crop

Major local producer San Remo has warned orders will be delayed because of high demand.

Pasta supplier Barilla sources its products from Italy where its factories are under high demand to get more supplies for shipping to Australia, the Australian Financial Review reported.

Shelves emptied of pasta at Coles in Belmont, Sydney and supplies are low because drought drastically cut the wheat crop.
Shelves emptied of pasta at Coles in Belmont, Sydney and supplies are low because drought drastically cut the wheat crop.

After one of the worst droughts in living memory, Australia's rice industry, which is reliant on heavy irrigation, can no longer meet national demand.

The rice shortage has been exacerbated by a steep hike in water prices in the Murray Darling Basin, which includes Australia's rice "capital" Leeton in the Riverina district in southwestern NSW.

Australia's biggest rice supplier SunRice produced its second lowest rice crop last year, 54,000 tonnes compared with 623,000 tonnes in 2018.

The crop that will be harvested this winter will be smaller than last year's.

San Remo has stated publicly that supermarkets need to provide information about when and at which locations will have supplies of their products.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who called panic buying "un-Australian", announced a lift on curfews to allow supermarket 24-hour deliveries.

‘Three Christmases worth of stock emptied’: Meat aisles in Woolworths in Redfern on March 19 were devoid of any stock. Picture: CS
‘Three Christmases worth of stock emptied’: Meat aisles in Woolworths in Redfern on March 19 were devoid of any stock. Picture: CS

Road Freight NSW welcomed the change, saying truck operators had been experiencing "massive choke points" during loading and unloading times.

"What used to take 35-50 minutes (and 90 minutes for a B-double) at a distribution centre to load a truck for a supermarket delivery, is now taking up to five-six hours," chief executive Simon O'Hara said in a statement.

"Given that most supermarket bays can handle one or at most two trucks at a time, it's causing lengthy build-ups for deliveries.

"Truckies are telling us they're being delayed for days or even up to a week."

A dejected shopper sits in the toilet paper aisle at Coles, Epping as a delivery of toilet paper, paper towel and pasta is due. Picture: James Gourley
A dejected shopper sits in the toilet paper aisle at Coles, Epping as a delivery of toilet paper, paper towel and pasta is due. Picture: James Gourley

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pleaded with Australians to stop hoarding, but on Friday queues of shoppers continued to form outside supermarkets.

People were queuing out the door at Woolworths stores in Marrickville and Redfern and other locations in Sydney.

The lines began forming even before the "seniors hour" between 7am and 8am had expired.

At Marrickville, shopper Jane Zouch told AAP she had to wait 20 minutes.

"The line was probably 40 people deep," she said. "everyone ran straight for the loo paper and pasta aisle.

candace.sutton@news.com.au

Originally published as Pasta, rice supplies running low

Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci with local farmer Rob Mathews last November as wheat crops were drastically reduced by the drought. Picture: Dallas Kilponen
Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci with local farmer Rob Mathews last November as wheat crops were drastically reduced by the drought. Picture: Dallas Kilponen
Rice harvesting in the Riverina has been severely affected by water price hikes. Picture: Andy Rogers
Rice harvesting in the Riverina has been severely affected by water price hikes. Picture: Andy Rogers