The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has granted interim authorisation for supermarkets to be able to coordinate immediately to ensure consumers have reliable and fair access to groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The commission said: “The purpose of this is to ensure the supply and the fair and equitable distribution of fresh food, groceries, and other household items to Australian consumers, including those who are vulnerable or live in rural and remote areas.”
Retail products are defined as fresh food, groceries, household products, and liquor.
It allows supermarkets to coordinate with each other when working with manufacturers, suppliers, and transport and logistics providers. A range of coordinated activities will be allowed, but not for supermarkets to agree on retail prices for products.
“This authorisation applies to Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and Metcash. It will also apply to any other grocery retailer wishing to participate. Grocery retailers, suppliers, manufacturers and transport groups can choose to opt out of any arrangements,” it said.
ACCC Chair Rod Sims said: “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.
“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. We believe allowing these businesses to work together to discuss further solutions is appropriate and necessary at this time.”
The commission had received the application on Friday (20 March). Sims said they had worked swiftly because of the urgency of the situation and impact on consumers.
The interim authorisation applies to agreements made by a supermarket taskforce convened by the federal Department of Home Affairs. It consists of government, supermarket, grocery supply chain and ACCC representatives.
The ACCC will now seek feedback on the application.