Supermarkets restocking after panic buying

By The Sunday Morning Business Desk

Empty shelves of rice at Keells Super in Arangala on the Malabe-Athurugiriya road

Supermarkets were left scampering to place new orders and transport goods from their warehouses into retail outlets over the weekend following widespread panic buying in Colombo and its suburbs on Thursday (12) and Friday (13).
The panic buying was triggered after two Sri Lankans were tested positive for Covid-19, better known as the coronavirus during the week, leading to fears of a shortage of food and groceries.
To assess the situation of the supermarkets, The Sunday Morning Business spoke to a number of retail chains in the country. Speaking to us, Laugfs Supermarket General Manager Susith Dharmasena noted that as of Friday, they still had enough stocks with them to supply their customers.
“At the moment, we do have enough stocks, especially food items. But we do not have that much sanitiser because it does not usually have a big demand,” he added.
Furthermore, he noted that they were working around the clock to ensure an uninterrupted supply of basic necessities and they are in the process of placing orders for more supplies.
A senior official of another retail arm of a leading conglomerate too confirmed to us that despite the sudden surge in demand during the week, they have enough stocks to cater to their customers.
“We are placing new orders and also taking goods out from our warehouses. Retail sales have been more than average due to the panic buying,” the official noted.
While all our attempts to reach Keells Super and Arpico Supercentre proved to be futile, Keells’ website as of Friday evening was inactive, with a notice saying that due to the unprecedented demand at their stores and on the website, they are unable to fulfil any further online orders.
Meanwhile, Cargills Food City told us that they were unable to disclose any information to the media.
A Sri Lankan chauffer guide was tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday (11), becoming the first Sri Lankan national to be infected by the coronavirus within the country. As news spread, people began stocking up on groceries and other basic necessities, especially hand sanitiser and masks. This got intensified on Thursday (12) as another person who shared lodging with the chauffer guide was tested positive for Covid-19, and schools were closed from Friday until 20 April. As a result, most of the supermarkets’ shelves were nearly or completely empty by Thursday evening.
The Sri Lankan Government on Friday requested the general public not to panic over any food shortage in the country. Chief of Defence Staff and Army Commander Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva stated that when people start panic buying, supermarkets might run out of their stocks available at the time and therefore, the sight of empty racks at supermarkets does not necessarily mean there is a shortage of food in the country.
“These bulk purchases in this manner would definitely lead to artificial shortages of essentials, which is not the case at all in the country,” the official website of the Sri Lanka Army noted.
On Friday, the Sri Lanka Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (SLCPI) assured the public that despite the global impact of the coronavirus, there was no shortage of essential drugs in Sri Lanka.
In a statement to the media, the SLCPI said that all major pharmaceutical importers have inventory and stock for at least three months and sometimes even more.

Photo: Pradeep Dambarage