With the panic buying going on throughout the world, spare a thought for the supermarkets  and their suppliers who  have had to cope with the unprecedented rush on their goods over the past two weeks.

The manager of the IGA Renaissance at Hawthorn Square in Melbourne, Stathis Argyrakakis, said the demand for goods in his supermarket was so high that his staff were hard pressed to keep up with the demand for a wide range of goods.

He added that his staff were working hard to fill the gaping holes in the shelves with stock as it arrived. In fact, I found him on his knees opening boxes and filling the shelves with pasta that was going almost as fast as he was placing it on the shelves. His staff were busy bringing in stock from the store room.

“It’s like double time over the Christmas period these past two weeks. As we get the stock, it goes,” said Mr Argyrakakis. “My staff are working really hard and have opted to do so but, hopefully, things will ease. We are all doing what we can.”

He said his customers have been very understanding of the situation and were encouraging the supermarket to continue.

“There are no issues or fights and they even joke with us and keep our spirits up,” he said. He added that was rationing some of the key products on the shelves.

The main products that were disappearing from the shelves were toilet paper, paper towels and napkins. He said there was also pressure to replenish cans of food, long-life milk, flour, pasta, pasta sauce and even olive oil.

He added that he had to place double orders of fruit and vegetables. Stock meant to last the weekend was gone in a day.

“It feels like the stories about the Second World War that I used to hear from my grandmother,” said Mr Argyrakakis who has managed the supermarket for the past two years.

He said that prices for now remained stable.

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Another supermarket manager, Tony Finfinis said the situation was difficult and that he had imposed a rationing regime for key products. His chief concern was for the elderly and the disabled customers.

“I have limited the sale of toilet rolls to one pack per customer,” said Mr Finfinis of IGA Carnegie. This week, a pack contained just four rolls.

He said he was now taking lists of elderly and disabled customers in the area to inform them when key products were available at the shop.

“This week we are having problems getting flour. Pasta is also affected. People are after the staples -anything that has a long-life, such cans of different foods. Breakfast cereals are also going particularly in the large packs.”

He said mincemeat was very much in demand and he said that frozen foods were also being sought.

“Today the wholesalers are asking us to put limits on our orders not because they do not have the produce but because they do not have the staff to cope with the demand,” he said.

“We need to stick together through this and be patient and look after our sick and elderly,” said Mr Finfinis who added he too was having to take on more staff to stock up the shelves as they emptied.

For Theologos Karanicholas of Theo’s Greek Cakes the situation was becoming a problem that would mean closing the business which he ran with his wife and three other helpers.

“Things are quiet and it is a bit of a concern. We have supplies but there are worries. Flour is becoming a problem, as are eggs. For now, the sugar situation is fine.

“We are having problems sourcing serviettes and soap for the hands is difficult,” he said. He had to buy an expensive hand soap which cost him $24 for half a litre. In comparison the product he would normally get but which was not available, cost $5.

Despina Papadimitriou, a director of Olympian Speciality Products, told Neos Kosmos that the demands of the past week had forced a number of important changes to its distribution practices. One of the first changes was to restrict access to the factory to staff only, a measure aimed at minimising risks to hygiene and the health of the company’s workers.

Another measure adopted by the company which is the sole producer of traditional Greek foods in Australia, was to ration orders so that all its clients would be able to supply their customers.

“We could sell all our stock in one go, take the money and go home but there is no point to that, we have to think of all our customers,” said Ms Papadimitriou.

The company had come under pressure from the wholesalers who, in turn, were feeling the pressure from their customers and this was adding to everyone’s stress levels. Along with independent shops and delicatessens, the company also supplied some IGA, Coles and Woolworths outlets in Victoria, as well suppliers in Sydney and Adelaide.

“We have to take a step back to take the stress off. The delicatessens and small independents will not have seen a peak in demand like this except maybe during Easter. Some do not have the money to buy stock and make full use of the opportunity this spike that this demand is creating.

“It is a different story for each customer and we are trying to meet their needs. We are slowing down the pace of supply so that we can do that,” she said.

She said that many of the shops did not have drive in bays so that deliveries were made through the front of the shop where members of the public were queueing up.

“Today one driver said the shop’s customers wanted to buy the flour straight off the delivery vehicle rather than wait for it to be delivered to the shop. Our staff have felt the pressure but they are coping well with it’” she said.

Anthony Beris of Delta Sales, the importer and distributor of European foods mostly from Greece, told Neos Kosmos that as yet there were no problems in supplying his produce to local delicatessens and supermarkets.

He said his company brings in about 200 containers a year of produce from Europe and that he could foresee no problems in maintaining supplies to local shops.