Seniors and pension card holders have tried to make the most of a dedicated shopping hour set up by a major supermarket chain for vulnerable people in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
People with government-issued concession cards on Tuesday flocked to Woolworths supermarkets for the dedicated shopping hour which runs nationally from 7am to 8am on weekdays, before opening to everyone else.
But not everyone was happy. At Woolworths Marrickville in Sydney’s west shoppers were complaining that some stock wasn’t available.
Woolworths fresh food director Paul Harker said the initiative had proved very popular on Tuesday morning but agreed there were still shortages of toilet paper and pasta.
“Our supply chains are working 24/7 to make sure they get product to our stores,” he said.
More broadly, Mr Harker said there was no shortage of goods in Australia.
“It is a logistics exercise of moving the product to get it back into stores with the pace and demand we’re seeing,” he added.
Staff at @woolworths opening doors exclusively to the elderly and disabled for a dedicated shopping hour this morning. Eligibility checked upon entry.@9NewsSyd #COVID19au #coronavirusaus pic.twitter.com/6DPwdTX8E0
— Grace Fitzgibbon (@gracefitz_9) March 16, 2020
The Woolworths shopping hour program will be reviewed later this week to see if it can be improved.
Panic buying in recent weeks sparked by the spread of COVID-19 in Australia has seen supermarkets stripped of toilet paper, pasta, rice, frozen food as well as tinned and other dried goods.
The issue has caused stress and frustration amongst elderly shoppers, many of whom find it difficult to make frequent visits to supermarkets for essential goods. In many cases, particularly for toilet paper, the shelves are often stripped bare.
The Coles shopping hour will start on Wednesday, when its stores also open at 7am for customers holding a government-issued Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, Companion Card and Health Care Card.
Coles is also seeking more than 5000 casual workers to help restock its supermarkets faster under a fast-tracked induction process and will hire more Coles Online delivery van drivers.
It also plans to dedicate grocery deliveries to people who are isolated and vulnerable. This means deliveries for other customers will be temporarily suspended, as will the Click&Collect service.
“We believe all Australians deserve the right to access their share of grocery items, particularly the elderly and the vulnerable,” Coles CEO Steven Cain said.
Meanwhile, the smaller national supermarket chain IGA is considering whether to roll out a similar pensioners-and-seniors-only shopping hour across its 1300 Australian stores.
The idea is being trialled at an IGA in Melbourne’s Altona, with a shopping hour between 6am to 7am, which could be extended across its network if successful.
IGA Chief Executive Fred Harrison said on Monday a final decision would be made by Wednesday.