Woolworths photo reveals major problem: 'I’m having déjà vu'

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Empty shelves and customers not getting what they came for have become somewhat normal over the past three years.

From bushfires to Covid lockdown, recent floods and events happening beyond Australia's borders have all impacted the supply chain in some way.

Jana Bowden, a Professor in Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, stopped by her local Woolworths on Sydney's North Shore on Sunday and saw empty shelves, with limited fresh produce and toilet paper.

The scenes took her back to the peak of the pandemic when panic buying was prevalent.

"I’m having 2020 déjà vu," she tweeted, along with photos of an empty lettuce selection and next to no toilet paper.

Pictured is the empty salad kit selection at Woolworths
The salad kit selection at a Woolworths on Sydney's North Shore was pretty much empty.

She told Yahoo News Australia the salad selection had been looking "pretty miserable" for days now.

"We've had the perfect storm in terms of the produce sector," Prof Bowden said.

"Not only have they had so many rounds of crops lost to the flood events and the rain situations, but on top of it, they've struggled to plant because it's been really abnormally cold weather."

Prof Bowden noted that unfortunately for customers, they might not see fresh produce back to normal levels for one to two months, by what growers are saying.

Woolworths said supply is expected to pick up in July and the company is working with growers, attributing the lack of supply to the heavy rain in growing regions.

As for the lack of toilet paper, Prof Bowden says the uptick in flu cases may be a direct result of the tissue shortage with people reaching for alternatives.

Supply issues have meant some aren't able to get toilet paper or facial tissues. Source: Jana Bowden
Supply issues have meant some aren't able to get toilet paper or facial tissues. Source: Jana Bowden

How 2020 is impacting us psychologically now

Prof Bowden said the recent scenes might take many consumers back to the "psychology of 2020".

Consumers now might have a fear about not being able to get a product at the supermarket, or going back day after day hoping stock has been replenished.

That has been the reality for many people, multiple times over the past few years, so the anxiety is understandable.

"The fact that we can rationally and logically explain it through crop production challenges that we faced in Australia recently, underneath all of that is an underlying consumer fear about the situation," Prof Bowden explained.

People shop at a Woolworths supermarket in Sydney on March 17, 2020.
The supply shortages seen across supermarkets in Australia is reminiscent of 2020, though this time around, it's not because of panic buying. Source: AFP via Getty Images

"Having had the experience of not being able to get a product before, and therefore the concern about when that might come back in stock..."

She also recognised the fear of missing out, or 'FOMO', might be playing a part in consumers' attitudes toward what is or isn't on the shelves right now.

Most consumers know the stock will refill at some point, but there is still that "emotional contagion and fear" when they see images of empty shelves on social media or in the media.

What consumers can do

Prof Bowden says the best thing consumers can do right now is look for alternatives to produce which is out of stock or simply too expensive, or look for alternative recipes.

KFC and Subway have substituted cabbage for lettuce, but other salad options might be available.

Obviously, it's a different case altogether for the nationwide shortage of facial tissues and toilet paper.

For that Prof Bowden has some advice that is reminiscent of what was repeated throughout the pandemic to curb panic buying — remain calm and only purchase what you need.

The recent flooding and weather has impacted produce in Australia, though supermarkets believe stock levels will be back to normal soon. Source: Getty Images
The recent flooding and weather has impacted produce in Australia, though supermarkets believe stock levels will be back to normal soon. Source: Getty Images

"Have at least, you know, maybe one spare packet as a backup in the cupboard," she laughed.

"But to recognise that some of these products will come back in stock shortly."

But if you are struggling to find a certain item, try another supermarket or store if you can.

"It might be inconvenient, it might require, you know, another drive another five or 10 minutes down the road," she said.

"But there probably is a smaller supermarket or there is an independent store, a corner store, that has stock."

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