Panic buying will cause problems that do not currently exist, says Humphreys

Minister and retailers insist there are sufficient supplies amid coronavirus restrictions

Minister for Business Heather Humphreys has insisted there is no need for panic buying of supplies as the emergency measures to deal with coronavirus come into effect.

She said people would instead “cause a problem” that currently does not exist if they began stockpiling and there was as yet no need to put restrictions on purchases.

Reports emerged of long queues in supermarkets even as Government Ministers gave a briefing about the measures to delay and minimise the effect of the virus also known as Covid-19.

Ms Humphreys said people would not need items they were stockpiling because there were sufficient stocks in place. “I can assure you of that,” she said.

The Minister had met the retailers and distributors and “they have assured me that there is sufficient [amount] in the supply chain. If people go out and buy products that they don’t need to stockpile them, they’re going to cause a problem.

“So I would say there is no need to do that. There is quite sufficient in the supply chain.”

The Minister was asked if restrictions should be put on the number of products that consumers were buying such as baby formula, and dry foods such as rice and pasta as well as sanitary items such as toilet rolls and soap.

Ms Humphreys said “that’s something I don’t think should be necessary” but she was in constant contact with all retailers “and we will discuss that issue with them”.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he understood that people were worried and that they wanted to make provisions for themselves and their families.

People should “buy what we need to provide for ourselves and our families and our loved ones” but he said that everyone should consider the “unintended consequences of taking something that somebody else requires”.

Retail groups echoed the Government’s advice, urging people not to share images of empty shelves as it contributed to unnecessary panic buying.

The head of Retail Excellence David Fitzsimons said he had spoken to “all of the major grocery multiples and forecourt operators in Ireland” and offered reassurance that Ireland was “prepared to continue to supply all grocery outlets for the coming months. There is no reason for Irish citizens to have any concern in that regard”.

He said the grocery sector had “never been more prepared having planned for a hard Brexit over the past number of months. Minister Heather Humphreys, Minister of Business and Enterprise, has done a tremendous job in monitoring this matter and please be assured that we have more than adequate contingencies in place”.

He criticised social media images of empty shelves which he said were “simply sensationalising the matter” and said shelves would be “restocked every evening and restocking will continue into the future”.

‘Elevated demand’

Commenting on the implications of Covid-19, Retail Ireland director Arnold Dillon there had been “significant elevated demand for certain non-perishable grocery products, supply chains are functioning as normal and were well placed to respond”.

He did however add that “retail distribution networks are not designed to deal with bulk buying on a widespread basis” and stressed it was “important that consumers behave responsibility and don’t buy more than they need. Retailers are working with their suppliers and monitoring consumer behaviour to avoid any shortages”.

In response to the Government’s escalation of its response, FTA Ireland, the organisation representing Ireland’s logistics sector, also moved quickly to reassure the public that the nation’s supply chain was resilient.

Its general manager Aidan Flynn said the supply was “well equipped to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. There is no need to stockpile food and other basic items. However, we ask that members of the public now stop stockpiling activity as it will place unnecessary pressure on the supply chain. As a nation, we should deal with this pandemic calmly and remain considerate of others”.

He also called on the Government to implement “a range of emergency measures to protect mobile workers specifically”.

The chief executive of SuperValu parent company Musgrave stressed that the health of staff and customers was the retailer’s top priority.

“We are experiencing high volumes of demand but our advice to the public is that there is no need for panic buying. Panic buying is an inconvenience to other customers, so we would reiterate the call to remain calm. We continue to work to maximise availability and are working with suppliers to keep products flowing through the system.”

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said "the last time we had a similar challenge to this was on the eve of what was potentially going to be a no-deal Brexit".

He said that “at that point in time there was a real concern that people would stockpile in terms of medicines. And we were reassuring people that the supply chains were strong, and that they did not need to do that. That is the position now as well.

“The food industry and the retail industry has given reassurance and that they have supply chains that are robust, that can continue to supply shops and shelves and consumers should realise that actually their actions could contribute to the problem here, as opposed to there being a fundamental problem in supply chain which there isn’t.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast