Supermarket operators will be able to coordinate with each other to ensure consumers have reliable and fair access to groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic, after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC’s) granted interim permission to the arrangement.
The interim authorisation will allow supermarkets to coordinate with each other when working with manufacturers, suppliers, and transport and logistics providers.
The purpose of this is to ensure the supply and the fair and equitable distribution of fresh food, groceries, and other household items to Australian consumers, including those who are vulnerable or live in rural and remote areas.
The authorisation allows a range of coordinated activities but does not allow supermarkets to agree on retail prices for products.
“Australia’s supermarkets have experienced unprecedented demand for groceries in recent weeks, both in store and online, which has led to shortages of some products and disruption to delivery services,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.
“This is essentially due to unnecessary panic buying, and the logistics challenge this presents, rather than an underlying supply problem.
“We recognise and appreciate that individual supermarket chains have already taken a number of important steps to mitigate the many issues caused by panic buying. We believe allowing these businesses to work together to discuss further solutions is appropriate and necessary at this time,” Mr Sims said.
The ACCC granted interim authorisation on Monday afternoon, after receiving the application last Friday.
“We have worked very swiftly to consider this interim authorisation application, because of the urgency of the situation, and its impact on Australian consumers,” Mr Sims said.
The Department of Home Affairs has convened a supermarket taskforce, which meets regularly to resolve issues affecting supermarkets.
Representatives from government departments, supermarkets, the grocery supply chain and the ACCC are on the taskforce.
The interim authorisation applies to agreements made as a result of taskforce recommendations.
This authorisation applies to Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and Metcash. It will also apply to any other grocery retailer wishing to participate.
Grocery retailers, suppliers, manufacturers and transport groups can choose to opt out of any arrangements.
Coles has also announced that it is changing its community shopping hours, with less time available to vulnerable and elderly shoppers.
Starting this Thursday 26 March, the first hour of trade on Tuesdays and Thursdays will be for emergency services and healthcare workers including doctors, nurses, paramedics, hospital and ambulance staff, police, firefighters and emergency service workers who hold an AHPRA card, have a workplace ID or are wearing their work uniform.
Monday, Wednesday and Friday Coles community hours will continue to be dedicated to vulnerable and elderly customers who hold a government-issued Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, Companion Card, Seniors Card, Disability Card and Health Care Card.
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