No square to spare in Australia as stores cap toilet paper 'panic buying' over coronavirus

By Byron Kaye

By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY, March 4 (Reuters) - Australia's biggest grocery chain Woolworths Group Ltd and the local arm of Costco Wholesale Corp put limits on purchases of toilet paper amid "panic buying" by shoppers concerned the coronavirus would hurt availability.

After Australians posted photos on social media in recent days showing empty supermarket shelves and shoppers pushing trolleys loaded with toilet paper, the prime minister said this week he had been assured by the main grocery chains they could meet any spike in demand for the essential product.

The rush on Australian toilet paper, which is largely made domestically, has not been explained and appears to be at odds with stockpiling of long-lasting food like tinned goods in other countries as governments impose travel restrictions to slow the spread of the illness. The hashtags #toiletpapergate and #toiletpapercrisis were trending on Twitter in Australia.

Woolworths said in a statement on Wednesday that it was introducing a limit of four packs of toilet paper per shopper, including online shoppers, to ensure every customer had access to the products.

"It will help shore up stock levels as suppliers ramp up local production and deliveries in response to higher than usual demand," the statement said.

It added that most Woolworths products remained available.

The country manager for Costco, Patrick Noone, said the membership-based discounter had put an even lower limit on toilet paper purchases of one pack per shopper, following an "influx of people in warehouses across the country in the past week 'stocking up'".

Costco had also put limits on purchases of milk, eggs, rice and disinfecting and soap products, he added in an email.

Representatives for No. 2 grocery chain Coles Group Ltd and German-owned discounter Aldi Inc were not immediately available for comment.


(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)