Coronavirus: When is the best time to go to the supermarket?

Despite shoppers being warned by the government not to panic buy during the coronavirus pandemic, supermarkets are still displaying empty shelves.

Here’s what you need to know regarding when to go supermarket shopping during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Should I visit supermarkets early in the morning?


“The best time to go to the supermarket at the moment is reasonably early in the morning,” Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour at Queensland Business School, Gary Mortimer, says.

Elderly people are seen waiting for the opening of Woolworths supermarket in Balmain.
Elderly customers are being prioritised at Woolworths and Coles. Source: Getty Images

“Stores such as Coles, Woolworths and Aldi have been closing an hour earlier and opening an hour later to allow extra time to fill their shelves, so there is a better chance of getting the range of products you want if you are there at the beginning of the day.

“Plus, fresh produce is usually delivered first thing in the morning.”

Empty fruit and vegetable shelves in an Australian supermarket after panic buying due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Source: Getty
Panic buying due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus has stripped supermarket store shelves of produce. Source: Getty Images

Do I need to panic buy or stockpile food during the pandemic?


“There is not a supply issue,” Professor Mortimer told Yahoo News Australia.

Woolworths staff standing behind protective screens. Source: Dallas Kilponen
To protect staff, Woolworths has announced checkout staff will be protected from customers by screens. Source: Dallas Kilponen

“The shelves are empty in some supermarkets simply because of logistics.”

These include:

Coronavirus causes staffing issues

“At typically busy times, such as Christmas, the supermarkets start to hire casual staff from about October to allow for more stock to be physically put on to the shelves,” Professor Mortimer explained.

“The current spike in demand is about three times as high as a Christmas period, so until new casual staff are employed, the supplies being delivered to the supermarkets simply can’t be put on the shelves fast enough.”

Coles have recently advertised for 5000 casual employees, and Woolworths have announced they will fill flexible contract and casual roles with as many of the Qantas and Jetstar staff, who are on leave without pay, in supply chain facilities, customer fulfilment centres and stores.

A Police officer watches on at people queueing for a delivery of toilet paper, paper towel and pasta at Coles Supermarket, Epping in Sydney. Source: AAP
Large crowds have been at stores looking for sold out items such as toilet paper, paper towels and pasta. Source: AAP

Supermarket delivery truck restrictions

“Noise restrictions from many local councils state trucks can’t deliver after 9pm or before 5am,” Professor Mortimer said.

“Nearly all these bans have been lifted now, so we will start to see trucks from the distribution centres be able to deliver to stores more frequently.

“There are around 4500 supermarkets in Australia, and around 1000 delivery trucks,” he continued.

“Usually these trucks might deliver half the pallets they’re carrying to one store, then the other half to another store.

“But because one store now needs all the pallets to restock their shelves, the delivery truck now has to return to the distribution centre first. Of course this takes more time.”

A Coles delivery truck is pictured in Sydney.
There are about 4500 supermarkets in Australia, and only around 1000 delivery trucks. Source: Getty

When do supermarkets restock their shelves?

“Usually supermarkets run a ‘night-fill’ operation,” Professor Mortimer told Yahoo News Australia.

“Once the supermarket closes at 9pm, a team of staff replenish the shelves. Most teams work 9pm to midnight. Some supermarkets run a ‘dawn-fill’, replenishing their stores from 5am to 8am.

“At the moment, deliveries are coming at different times of the day. This means if a truck turns up carrying toilet paper or hand sanitiser, staff might ‘spot-fill’ bulky items such as toilet paper, but they usually wait until the store is empty to fill smaller items.

“It’s too risky to bring big pallets of product in to the store while customers are there.”

Customers during elderly hour at a Woolworths in Melbourne. Source: AAP
The elderly hour is also meant to provide a quieter environment. Source: AAP

When is the best time for the elderly to go shopping?

Woolworths, Coles, Aldi and IGA have all introduced ‘senior shopping’ hours to let vulnerable people have access to items they really need and for them to be able to shop in a quieter environment.


The elderly shopping hour or “community hour” at Coles takes place at 7am-8am Monday to Friday in all Coles supermarkets.

Staff use their discretion when it comes to letting people in, but customers may need present a government-issued identity card, including a pensioner concession card, companion card, commonwealth seniors health card, health care card, seniors card, or disability card.

The supermarket announced on Tuesday that beginning on Thursday, emergency services and healthcare workers will have access to groceries between 7am to 8am.


Woolworths have an elderly shopping hour between 7am-8am every morning.

They will re-assess each week how it is working, and extend it for one week at a time.

They have also introduced a Priority Assistance service, to ensure the elderly, vulnerable, those with compromised immunity or who are self-isolating have access to delivery services.

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