Major supermarkets assured customers supply would be maintained and stores would remain open.
Workers at Woolworths in Hawthorn East and Coles in Richmond said there was a rush of customers in the late afternoon and early evening. Both workers said supermarkets were better prepared for over-buying and had extra stock to replenish shelves.
Panic buying surged in March as coronavirus cases began to spread, with shoppers stripping shelves of toilet paper and pantry items such as canned goods, eggs and flour.
Hitesh Palta – owner of the IGA Altona store in Melbourne’s south-western suburbs, the first store in Australia to introduce elderly-only hours at the start of the pandemic – said there were signs that some people had begun unnecessarily filling their shopping trolleys again.
“There are some customers getting panicked but we do tell them there’s plenty of stock,” Mr Palta said on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after Premier Daniel Andrews announced stage three lockdown would return from 11.59pm on Wednesday.
“We’ve got plenty of stock, nobody is going without anything. Everything is fully stocked up.”
Sales jumped about 20 per cent in the past two weeks, compared with the previous fortnight, but he said that was nothing compared with the 300 per cent jump his store experienced in March.
Mr Palta hoped stores don’t experience that rush again. “There’s no need to panic buy, just buy what you need,” he said.
Only this week Coles and Woolworths removed some purchase restrictions after a second bout of panic buying slowed.
The stores have repeatedly asked shoppers to treat staff with respect and only buy what they need, while adhering to social distancing in-store.
Coles removed all limits on its products nationally from Tuesday, while Woolworths retained its two-pack-per-person limit on toilet paper for the time being.
Coles, Woolworths and Aldi have not announced that purchasing limits would return following Mr Andrews’ announcement on Tuesday.
“We know it’s an anxious time for Melburnians, but they can be assured our stores will remain open just as they did throughout March and April,” a Woolworths spokesperson said on Tuesday night.
“We have more than enough stock flowing through from our distribution centres and into our stores to support all our customers’ grocery needs.
“We encourage all our customers to continue shopping as they usually would.”
Coles had struggled to get chilled and fresh produce on the shelves of Victorian and Tasmanian stores after a cluster of six cases was connected to its chilled distribution centre in Laverton.
A significant proportion of staff at the distribution centre self-isolated at home as a precaution, which meant the centre could not operate at normal capacity.
“We thank customers for their patience and understanding while the limits were in place to help us manage increased demand in stores and temporary delays in our Victorian supply chain,” a Coles spokesperson said on Monday.
Lincoln Wymer, the operations manager of the Reddrop Group, with 17 independent supermarkets in Victoria and NSW, spent Tuesday afternoon preparing for the lockdown announcement.
He had yet to see a reaction from shoppers.
There had been a milder rush in toilet paper sales again over the past two weeks, he said, but he hoped that was just be a blip after the initial panic-buying in March.
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Rachel is a city reporter for The Age.
Paul is a reporter for The Age.