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Woolworths will close all its supermarkets early on Wednesday evening so it can restock stores as part of a drastic plan to manage the huge levels of panic buying in Australia.
From Thursday, elderly people and vulnerable Australians will also be able to pick up "care packages" filled with everyday essentials.
However, Australia's largest grocer has said quantity limits could be placed on items beyond toilet paper, rice and pasta.
"We want to slow the panic down," Woolworths managing director Claire Peters said today.
"We understand that our customers' priority is to be prepared, but the vast majority of our food is grown or manufactured in Australia so there is not a concern with supply. What we have is a spike in demand."
Speaking at a Sydney Woolies this afternoon, Ms Peters said the supermarket chain had experienced a "huge weekend" of shopping, far exceeding sales over Christmas or any time during the past 12 months.
ALL STORES TO TEMPORARILY CLOSE
The firm's plan to get its supermarkets back in a more normal state includes putting more trucks on the road to get food to stores, making better use of distribution centres and doing more deliveries direct to branches cutting out the warehouse altogether.
"What we're facing is a short term spike. All of that product is coming back into stores over the coming days and weeks," she said.
The most radical action will be a temporary nationwide shutdown of all Woolworths' 1000 plus stores nationwide at 8pm on Wednesday, several hours earlier than usual for most Woolies supermarkets.
The stores will then reopen no earlier than 7am on Thursday.
"This will allow us to replenish stores in a calm manner," said Ms Peters, alluding to wild scenes in some stores where customers have been grabbing toilet paper as soon as it appears on the aisles, often not making it to shelves.
CARE PACKAGES FOR ELDERLY
She specifically addressed the ongoing issue of the lack of toilet paper, which is still missing from many shelves despite a limit of two packs per customer.
"Loo roll is a large cube that takes up a lot of space on trucks. But the great news is we are seeing huge support from our suppliers that have changed their lines to different packs sizes so more customers can get their hands on packs," she said.
This morning, Woolworths said it would from tomorrow limit the first hour of shopping to just elderly and vulnerable Australians who have struggled more than most to get their hands on the essentials. Some IGA stores have announced a similar initiative.
From Thursday, Woolworths will offer care packages for these shoppers that can be picked up from the customer service desk. Both the early opening and care packages can be accessed by people with a government concession card.
"As you'd expect these packages will include some of the things people have been panic buying, like toilet roll and pasta," she said.
However, Ms Peters warned that the company's stores and warehouses "don't have sponge walls" and can't be expanded with more stock indefinitely. She appealed for shoppers to return to more standard levels of grocery shopping.
She also urged customers to respect Woolies' staff despite the lower stock levels on some items.
"Our team have done an outstanding, incredible job. But no matter how frustrating the customer experience is, no one should come to work to be abused."