The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has cleared Australia’s major supermarkets to “work together” during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen panic buying strip supermarket shelves across the country bare of basic everyday and non-perishable items, but the ACCC's green light does not mean supermarkets can agree on prices.
In a first for Australia’s competition regulator, the ACCC’s authorisation allows supermarkets to coordinate with each other while working with manufacturers, suppliers, and transport and logistics providers.
While the authorisation allows coordinated activities of the participating supermarkets, Coles, Woolworths, ALDI, and wholesaler Metcash, the ACCC says the authorisation does not allow supermarkets to agree on retail prices for products.
The ACCC granted interim authorisation on Monday afternoon after receiving the application lodged by Coles Group 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,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.
Australia has seen new levels of stockpiling of everyday goods leaving supermarket shelves of certain items bare.
This has resulted in shortages, especially toilet paper and non-perishable items, and constraints in the supply chain.
“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.”
This authorisation applies to Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and Metcash, and will also apply to any other grocery retailer wishing to participate.
Grocery retailers, suppliers, manufacturers and transport groups can choose to opt out of the arrangement.
The ACCC said it believes allowing these businesses to work together to discuss further solutions is “appropriate and necessary at this time”.
Last week the regulator green-lit Australia’s largest banks to work together in offering relief for small businesses impacted by COVID-19. Australia’s Banking Association announced that small businesses hit by the health crisis would be able to access a six-month deferral on loan repayments.