COSBOA is deeply concerned that the focus on the biggest supermarkets as a source of essential products for consumers creates a health risk as more people congregate in a smaller number of retail premises.
Peter Strong, CEO of COSBOA, stated "our understanding is that people need to stay away from each other as best as they can yet we see the big supermarket chains of Coles and Woolworths becoming hubs for people to purchase material while the smaller supermarkets, convenience stores and service stations in the suburbs are treated as secondary outlets. It has reached the stage where the larger supermarkets are allocating special times for older people to shop, bringing this vulnerable group together in large numbers. Wouldn’t we be better having people travel less distance for their necessities and meeting fewer people as they do so?”
COSBOA supports the government in its approach on confronting health issues as the priority but it needs to be inclusive when consulting business and industry on solutions. The recently formed Supermarket Taskforce based in the Department of Home Affairs is tasked with ensuring that supplies are maintained to supermarkets, but as Coles and Woolworths are the retailers on the task force we feel there will be less of an emphasis on supply to all outlets than there otherwise might be. This includes local butchers and specialised food outlets.
Mr Strong added “We need to ensure the needs of all outlets are considered, not just the big ones. Health protection measures like social distancing are much more easily achieved in the suburbs. The home delivery services and support of aged care facilities by the local butchers, grocers and other outlets are rarely mentioned but are vitally important. They must have the products to maintain support to the community in these times. We are hearing that the duopoly has cornered the market on items such as Perspex, needed for safety barriers, and has purchased whole farm lots of potatoes. This creates problems for small business in the suburbs.”
Mr Strong also stated “the issue of staffing for the smaller outlets is a real problem. This is not about a lack of employees as most suburban stores have employees from their local area. Yet many of the smaller convenience stores, butchers, pharmacists and other businesses need to open for longer hours to maintain services and deliver goods as they develop new business models, products and behaviours to deal with the crisis. They want to extend trading and working hours for sales, repacking shelves, deliveries and product preparation but the high penalty rates are limiting the speed of reaction and the lack of flexibility with reallocating staff is also creating real difficulties in management of product and costs. The workplace relations system is responding too slowly to this crisis. Someone needs to step in now to create certainty for supply to suburban businesses and for employment to ensure access for vulnerable consumers in a safe environment.”