Coronavirus outbreak

FairPrice imposes purchase limits to curb stockpiling

Cap set at four packs of paper products, two bags of rice, 4 pillow packets of instant noodles

A sign informing customers of purchase limits for certain items at a FairPrice outlet near Braddell Road, on Feb 9, 2020. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Singapore's largest supermarket chain FairPrice yesterday started imposing purchase limits on essential items to ensure all customers would be able to buy them, even as calm was restored at certain supermarket branches across Singapore after a weekend of frenzied shopping.

Customers at FairPrice outlets were informed via a notice that each person could buy only up to four packs of paper products such as toilet paper and facial tissues, two bags of rice and four pillow packets of instant noodles. Each person can also buy only up to $50 worth of vegetables.

"We urge customers to buy only what they need and not to stockpile," the notice read.

Madam Jenny Tan, 50, a housewife who was shopping at the FairPrice outlet at Square 2 in Novena, bought one pack of rice among other groceries. "The new limits are good - they will prevent items from going out of stock so quickly so people who need them can still buy."

Sheng Siong, another supermarket chain, said it will not be limiting customers' purchases, but urged shoppers to exercise restraint. "We trust the public to be rational and not stockpile as food items will expire," a spokesman said.

On Friday evening, after Singapore elevated its disease outbreak response to the coronavirus to code orange - indicating a moderate to high public health impact - people rushed to stock up on essentials such as rice and toilet paper at the weekend.

Photographs and videos circulating on social media showed people piling up baskets and shopping carts with instant noodles, rice and toilet paper, resulting in shelves being emptied of these items.

It prompted the authorities and supermarket representatives to come forward with numerous reassurances that Singapore has a ready supply of daily essentials and grocery items, and that there is no need to overbuy them.

Yesterday, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing told reporters at a walkabout in Jurong that supermarket chains have increased the supply runs to ensure shelves remain stocked.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has also called on Singaporeans to stay united and for the nation to overcome the stressful time together.

It appears that the reassurances have paid off.

Over at FairPrice Finest in Clementi Mall, Madam Jill Tan, 56, said she noticed fewer signs advertising promotional prices for bulk purchases, and her shopping experience was pleasant.

"Perhaps people who were stockpiling have run out of space to store the items at home, or have been sufficiently shamed on social media. Or maybe the reassurances from PM Lee and the other ministers are starting to sink in," she said.

Madam Tan, a secretary, said she had been prepared to tell people off for bulk-buying items, but did not see anyone doing that.

Yesterday, The Straits Times visited seven outlets of FairPrice, Sheng Siong and Giant supermarkets across the island, and found a general mood of calm at the stores in Pasir Ris, Serangoon, Thomson, Novena and Bishan.

While there were still many empty shelves in the aisles that once stocked rice, instant noodles and paper products at some outlets, staff were busy restocking the items.

There were ample quantities of rice and paper products at the Sheng Siong outlet in Upper Thomson's Imperial Court.

Lines were not as long as they had been over the weekend, and there were hardly any crowds at some outlets.

At the Sheng Siong outlet at Loyang Point mall, Mr Arun Pandiyan, 27, who works in the semiconductor industry, said his shopping experience was smooth and he managed to buy everything he needed. "Initially, the bags of rice were sold out, but they restocked it and we managed to get a bag," he told ST.

Yesterday, the FairPrice outlet at Zhongshan Mall in Balestier was also well stocked except for the toilet paper aisle.

Said a 48-year-old civil servant, who gave her name only as Madam Koh: "I was at Sengkang on Friday and Serangoon on Saturday, and the queues were so long. But it's pretty normal here, like any Sunday."

  • Additional reporting by Tan Ee Lyn

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2020, with the headline FairPrice imposes purchase limits to curb stockpiling. Subscribe