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Online Grocery Sales Up 45% Thanks To 'Panic Buying'

Despite repeated pleas from authorities to stop panic buying toilet rolls and other household items, it hasn't stopped Australians from emptying shelves nationwide amid growing coronavirus fears.

But if you're wondering whether the hoarding of household supplies has spread beyond the wild supermarket scenes this week where shoppers scrambled to fill their trolleys with toilet paper -- the latest statistics have shown grocery sales have dramatically risen online too.

National

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Shoppers Say They're Panic-Buying Toilet Paper Just Because Everyone Else Is

Trolleys packed full of toilet paper, spray cleaner and long-life milk are flying out of supermarkets -- but people say they're only in a frenzy because everyone else is, not because they're scared of the coronavirus.

According to Nielsen Homescan, which measures consumer and market trends globally, online grocery sales in Australia have soared by more than 45 per cent in a four-week period, compared to the same period a year ago.

The product with the most growth in sales in the four week period measured last month was pasta, with sales increasing a staggering 76 per cent online.

This was closely followed by eggs which had a 72 per cent increase in sales and canned meals at 71 percent.

Shelves stripped of pasta at this Woolworths in Western Sydney. Image: Supplied

The new statistics, which measure the four weeks ending on February 22, show an increase of 51 per cent for online toilet paper sales, but with #toiletpapergate only really kicking off this week, it will be interesting to see if that number increases with further data.

A break down of the increase in sales of individual products. Image: Nielsen Homescan.

Managing Director of Nielson Connect's Pacific region Bernie Hughes said this panic buying rush will have an almost immediate impact on supply chains and manufacturers.

Hughes said that while restocking will eventually catch up with demand where stock is produced locally, other products, particularly those sourced or manufactured in China will likely see more long-term shortages.

"It’s a fluid time, and retailers are balancing between keeping enough of the most sought-after supplies on their shelves while making contingency plans for longer-term gaps in their product portfolios," Hughes said.

"We are already seeing instances where retailers are rationing certain products to limit the amount of stockpiling per shopper".

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Coles has joined Woolworths in limiting toilet paper roll purchases to four packs per customer, as frenzied shoppers continue to lay store shelves bare across the country.

This week, supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths, as well as some independent stores, were forced to introduce limits on how much toilet paper could be bought by individual shoppers following the dramatic spike in demand.

The limits have since spread to other items including hand sanitiser products, tissues, pasta and even flour at some local and independent stores.

Hughes said the flow-on effect could see brand and store loyalty impacted as shoppers turn to other stores and labels where their usual choice has run out.

He said the surge in online sales, as consumers turn to alternative options in the wake of pandemic fears, is also forcing stores to reevaluate their online strategies.

"Measuring the continued growth of this channel is key to understanding how it fits in within shoppers’ buying patterns and overall spending repertoire."

Authorities have repeatedly stressed panic buying is unnecessary in Australia, where virus numbers are low and response strategies are in place.

This week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said while he understood there was anxiety in the community that was spurring the rush to stock up, he urged people to use "common sense".

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Filling your pantries with food over coronavirus fears is not just unnecessary but completely "un-Australian" and could leave vulnerable Aussies going without, an expert told 10 daily.

"The common-sense response is to go about your business as normal," Morrison said.

"What helps people is just getting access to the right information. And the source of that information is coming well through our health agencies, both at a state and a Commonwealth level. And that's what people should base their decisions on."