Coles and Woolworths face sad reality amid onslaught of wild weather

Photos from Darwin show supermarket shelves stripped bare as flooding and heavy rain lashes the state.

Shoppers in supermarkets in parts of Australia have been met with empty shelves as stock levels dwindle due to the wild weather impacting the north of the country.

The latest in a string of chaotic weather events lashing Australia has residents in Far North Queensland bracing for a second natural disaster in barely a month with Tropical Cyclone Kirrily expected to hit land in a matter of days.

Meanwhile, significant flooding and heavy rainfall in the Northern Territory have cut off significant road and rail access across the state, leaving supermarkets without essential food and stocks— a problem growing increasingly familiar across Australia.

Photos shared on social media by a Darwin local show the dire situation facing residents hoping to stock up on food for their families. Fruit and veggie stands at a Coles store remain empty, while the refrigerated section is clear of packs of meat.

Empty shelves at Coles store Darwin
Coles (pictured) and Woolworths are experiencing a shortage of fresh food due to flooding across the NT. Source: Twitter

While the supermarket aims to "work hard ahead of time to ensure we have extra supplies of water and other essential supplies in high-risk areas", a Coles spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia on Monday, fresh food including meats and produce can prove a challenge during unprecedented times.

"Due to road and rail closures, there are some current challenges getting supplies into the Darwin area" due to the wild floods currently hitting communities across the Northern Territory," the Coles spokesperson said."While essential supplies remain available, as soon as the local authorities advise that the roads have been reopened, we will recommence deliveries to our stores".

Stock slowly coming back into stores

Roads, including the Stuart Highway, a major access road, reopened to 4WD and heavy vehicles on Sunday afternoon which means the stock will soon start to fill the supermarkets once more.

A Woolworths spokesperson confirmed on Monday "we’ve had several loads of fruit, veg and meat sent on their way to stores" after it too experienced shortages. "These are expected to arrive in stores by Tuesday and our team members are working hard to prepare to restock shelves as soon as new deliveries arrive," they said. In the meantime, product limits remain in some stores.

Woolworths note to customers low stock
Woolworths is working towards getting stock replenished in its stores. Source: Facebook/Getty

How supermarkets prepare for natural disasters

Australia has experienced a range of natural disasters in recent years including the 2019-20 Australian bushfires and the devastating NSW floods that wiped out towns and cities across the east coast in 2022. Most recently Tropical Cyclone Jasper in Cairns was followed by heavy rainfall and more flooding before Christmas — all of which impacted supply chains.

It's understood Woolworths is always preparing for natural disasters and, ahead of each cyclone season in Queensland, they proactively position key supplies at distribution hubs up north to ensure they’re ready in an emergency. In 2020, the supermarket completed the expansion of its Townsville Regional Distribution Centre, which now holds additional fresh food and essential product lines to prepare for extreme weather events.

Coles and Woolies planning for Queensland cyclone

Ahead of the cyclone warning for Queensland, Woolworths said its "team is closely monitoring the situation in Far North Queensland and making preparations for each of our Woolworths supermarkets".

“Additional stock has been sent to stores from Mackay to Cairns over the last week, which includes bottled water, longlife milk, noodles, flour, canned goods and poultry. Our local distribution centre in Townsville is also well supplied with key items.

"There are no product limits currently in place but, as always, we ask customers to be mindful of others in the community and buy only what they need," Woolworths said.

Tropical Cyclone could make severe impact south of Cairns next week. Picture: Weatherzone
Tropical Cyclone Kirrily could make severe impact south of Cairns this week. Picture: Weatherzone

Coles is also preparing ahead of time as it does with all expected weather events. "Our team is working hard to prepare our stores across FNQ with extra supplies of water and essential supplies, ahead of the impending cyclone," a spokesperson said.

"We want to reassure our customers that we have comprehensive contingency plans in place to ensure we have sufficient supply of water and other essential supplies for the community."

On Monday the tropical low was 860 kilometres east-northeast of Townsville, and the Bureau of Meteorology expects to become a tropical cyclone on Tuesday. "The system is forecast to cross the coast, most likely between Innisfail and Airlie Beach and during Thursday," the bureau advised on Monday.

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