The competition watchdog is giving supermarket rivals amnesty to coordinate supply and logistics so vulnerable consumers aren’t left empty handed amid unprecedented coronavirus panic-buying.
The ACCC announced Tuesday that Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, IGA supplier Metcash and others would be given temporary permission to cooperate when liaising with manufacturers, suppliers, and transport and logistics providers to keep their shelves adequately stocked during the pandemic.
Competition law usually prohibits certain market conduct between supermarkets and the new agreement essentially provides temporary protection from prosecution and during this “unprecedented demand for groceries”.
“This (agreement) is essentially due to unnecessary panic buying, and the logistics challenge this presents, rather than an underlying supply problem,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said on Tuesday.
As a safeguard, the interim ACCC rules do not allow supermarkets to agree on retail prices for products.
Panic buying has resulted in surging sales at supermarkets in recent weeks but many stores have faced periods without essential items – such as toilet paper and non-perishable foods – being available.
Most outlets have imposed limits on the take home of certain products while others have created special trading hours for the elderly and vulnerable to counter grocery hoarding.
“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,” Mr Sims said.
“We believe allowing these businesses to work together to discuss further solutions is appropriate and necessary at this time.”
The ACCC said the Department of Home Affairs Supermarket Taskforce approached it with the cooperation proposal on Friday and the interim agreement was put in place on Monday afternoon.
Grocery retailers, suppliers, manufacturers and transport groups can choose to opt out of any arrangements.
ACCC authorisation provides statutory protection from court action for conduct that might otherwise raise concerns under the competition provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.