Supermarkets stripped bare amid lockdown announcement

SWIFT REOPENING: The Shearer's Cook Cafe principal owner Melissa Armfield said the six-day closure was necessary to quickly combat the spread of COVID-19.

By Raquel Mustillo

A LIMESTONE Coast supermarket recorded its busiest day in its seven decade history on Wednesday as a surge of people flocked to stock up on supplies for the six-day lockdown.

Despite assurances by state authorities supermarkets would remain open throughout South Australia’s snap lockdown, Millicent store Foster’s Foodland was stripped of toilet paper, flour and bread shortly after the wide-ranging restrictions were announced.

The Kentish Place supermarket smashed an unenviable record set during the first wave of coronavirus, with customers lined up from the checkout to the back of the store to make last-minute purchases ahead of lockdown. 

Foster’s Foodland manager David Foster said staff were caught off guard when shoppers descended to the store shortly after a press conference outlining the lockdown.

He said the five-hour period from the announcement until the store’s closure at 6pm was the busiest in Foster’s 73-year history.

“At 1pm we were quiet and at 1.15pm it was total chaos,” he said.

“I have never seen anything like it before in my life. 

“We had no warning and no time to think about it – it just happened.

“I don’t like seeing customers lined up three deep at the checkout, let alone lined up to the back of the shop at every aisle. 

“It was the busiest day we have ever had in the history of our business.”

Hundreds of people stood in line both inside and outside supermarkets across the region on Wednesday afternoon to buy supplies, with staff restricting entry to ensure customers adhered to social distancing measures. 

According to one Woolworths Millicent customer, the store provided patrons with a free bottle of water upon entry after long wait times in temperatures of up to 29 degrees.

Following widespread panic buying, Woolworths reinstated purchase limits on key products including toilet paper, flour, meat and bread, with Coles undertaking the same measure earlier in the week. 

Woolworths supermarkets South Australian general manager Karl Weber encouraged customers to continue shopping as they normally would and only buy what they need.

“As an essential service, our supermarkets will remain open to support our customers’ food and grocery needs,” he said.

“We have plenty of stock, which will continue to flow to stores from our distribution centres.”

However, Mr Foster said he was reluctant to establish product limits and hoped stock levels could be easily maintained without enforcing restrictions on customers. 

“I think it will be better this time because it is only isolated in our state, so products won’t be going to the eastern states first,” he said.

“But it depends on how widely the restrictions affect things like warehouses and distribution.

“My customers might come in and buy a few packets of toilet paper because they live out at Furner, or they will come in and buy a carton of milk every day, so it is really hard to restrict.

“I know the customers and they do it all the time so it is really hard to stand at the checkout and say that person can have three toilet paper packets and that person cant. 

“We will have restrictions if it seems excessive, like if someone comes in and has bought 12 hand sanitisers we will probably say you can’t do that.”

Mr Foster thanked customers for their patience and praised staff members, many of whom were called into work after the panic buying started to try and meet the increased demand. 

On the checkout to help out was Shearer’s Cook Cafe principal owner Melissa Armfield, who left her store during the supermarket rush to provide assistance to staff and pack the bags of customers.

Ms Armfield’s cafe, located next door to Foster’s Foodland, is one of hundreds of businesses which have been forced to close for at least six days as part of the directive. 

The cafe was open until late on Wednesday to sell its remaining stock before the mandatory shutdown, with a number of residents stopping in after their grocery shop. 

Ms Armfield hoped the lockdown would be short-lived and said while a minimal amount of stock was lost, it was “better than losing your life”. 

“It’s probably not going to be for months if everybody does the right thing,” she said.

“We will be fine, we will get out on the other side and it will be all good.

“We didn’t lose much stock, but there might be an issue when we get out of lockdown to get stock back in because of deliveries.

“We get a lot of our stuff from Foster’s and when people panic but last time, it was an issue just to get basics.”