9 Feb 2022

Covid-19: Countdown cans restrictions on goods for now

10:08 am on 9 February 2022

There seems to be different approaches taken by supermarkets over limited sales of some products, with Countdown not having any in place on products apart from Panadol and Ibuprofen.

New Brighton Countdown

Countdown says it can bring in restrictions on products in a matter of hours if needed. File photo Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Countdown corporate affairs general manager Kiri Hannifin told Morning Report they have found that putting restrictions in place could be counterproductive.

"If we needed restrictions, if people were buying too much or we were short of stock, we would put restrictions in place. But we don't need to at the moment," Hannifin said.

"We've only got a limit on Panadol and Ibuprofen, but that's not to do with Covid, that's to do with the Coroner's recommendation around misuse."

Restrictions could raise anxiety instead of prevent panic-buying, she said.

"And that's counterproductive because it just wipes out the shelves ... we think it causes unnecessary concern.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has already warned that it is "inevitable" there will be some impact on the supply-chain as Omicron spreads in the community, but he said officials would be working to minimise disruption.

If there was surge in buying as a result of disruption in the supply, as witnessed in Australia, then Countdown could easily bring in restrictions in a matter of hours, Hannifin said.

"It's been very difficult for our business in Australia and they saw significant disruption and lots of supply issues in stores, that started basically in the farm or in the food plant," she said.

"So, we're planning for it. I guess we've expected it before now. We were sort of thinking we might see some problems or some issues last week, but we're doing pretty well as a country, so we're … kind of bracing ourselves for disruption, but not seeing it at the moment.

"But if it's like Australia, it will be a bit difficult for us and Kiwis will have to be a little bit patient because there will be some gaps on the shelves, but hopefully if we keep going like we're doing at the moment as a country and scanning in and testing and wearing masks, we might not see it so significant."

Countdown was also preparing for up to 30 percent of staff to be away at any one time, at any site, Hannifin said.

"We've got different plans, depending on where that is in the country. So for Auckland or Wellington, it's very easy to manage, [but] it's much harder to manage in Taupō or Queenstown, where there's only one store.

"And of course, the distribution centres - we need sort of 85 percent of our team to be there to run [it], so we've got different sort of Covid protocols depending on where we are and what we're doing."

There is already one store where a section has had to be closed down because of team members isolating, Hannifin said.

"So we're already sort of doing it, but nowhere near as impactful as it was last August when we had 3000 people away, so we closed nine stores in Auckland to kind of deal with it. So we can close stores, we can reduce hours, we can close the deli or the bakery, we can close down a particular aisle."

She said they were very mindful of regions where there was only store supplying them.

"In those areas, like for example, Dargaville, we're looking at whether we'll do you know RAT [rapid antigen] testing in that store to kind of have elevated Covid controls, stop online delivery, really kind of reduce the service to very basic food and grocery so that we can run with say 60 percent of the team."

But it was not just about the logistics of keeping a store open and running, Hannifin said they wanted to ensure the well-being of staff too.

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