The boss of the nation's biggest supermarket chain has urged its customers not to buy more groceries than they need, assuring skittish shoppers "we do not have a supply issue".
With panic buying of products stripping goods from his store's shelves nation-wide, Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci said in the past week the retail giant had "been asked to feed 50 million Australians and not 24.5 million Australians and that is the big issue".
"Do we have a supply issue or do we have a demand surge issue and it's unequivocally true that it's a demand surge," Mr Banducci told ABC's 7.30 on Wednesday night.
"We have experienced it inside Woolworths and every other major retailer in the country has experienced the same.
"So, if everyone just bought what they needed we would rapidly see a full shop again in ourselves and in all of our competitors."
Amid growing fear about the coronavirus, Woolworths introduced on Wednesday new limits on the amount of goods each customer can buy, applying a two-per-customer, per transaction limit on nearly every packaged item in-store.
Mr Banducci said the chain had recorded "more sales in the last week than we would in the week before Christmas".
"We prepare for Christmas for three months," he said. "We spend six weeks moving product into store, putting on top of our shelvest, putting it in the back room.
"To try to respond to what the demand has been since Thursday night has been virtually impossible for us and any of our competitors."
With panic buying disrupting the company's ability to restock key staples such as toilet paper, meat and rice, staffing was being bolstered to restock shelves and casuals were being rostered for extra hours.
"We don't have a supply issue, we've just got to get the product on the shelf and we urge our customers to buy what they need," Mr Banducci said.
"If everyone just bought what they needed we will be back in stock."
On Wednesday Prime Minister Scott Morrison slammed shoppers who were hoarding grocery items, saying it was "not sensible" and that it was "un-Australian".
Mr Banducci said 85 per cent of "all food consumed in Australia is either grown or produced here".
"If you look at toilet paper there are three very strong suppliers in Australia. They've got local factories and they are running 24 hours a day so we don't have a supply issue we have this demand surge issue."
Mr Banducci said prices would not be increased for essential items, though there were "slightly less" discount promotions to avoid exacerbating demand.
"We're certainly not going to be putting them up - of that you can rest assured," he said.
"We are very sensitive to making sure we deliver value for our customers in particular in this time of need."
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