Supermarket shelves could stay bare for weeks as the latest Covid crisis wreaks havoc with Australia’s supply chain, a top Coles executive has warned.
Hundreds of meat workers in abattoirs have been sent into isolation in recent days as the Omicron strain sweeps across Australia.
Startling images have shown Coles and Woolworths shelves stripped of their produce as supermarkets struggle to refill their stores after the Christmas and New Year shopping rush.
Coles Chief Operating Officer Matthew Swindells said shoppers were in for a ‘couple of difficult weeks’ in the run-up to Australia Day as Omicron worsens existing labour shortages.
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This Woolworths on Sydney’s north shore had limited fresh produce and meat in stock earlier this week. Shoppers are in for a ‘couple of difficult weeks’ as supermarkets struggle to fill shelves in the run-up to Australia Day, a top Coles executive has warned
‘We were facing a number of supply chain challenges already – a shortage of pallets and a shortage of truck drivers,’ he told the Today show.
‘(After the Christmas rush) we’re somewhat on the back foot trying to make sure that we can keep the food supply lines going.
‘We’ve got probably another couple difficult weeks.’
The supermarket executive warned shoppers they may need to change brand to find their favourite products.
‘You might have to change brand or buy a different pack size,’ he said. ‘As it’s a new year, try something different.
‘It will take us a few weeks to fully recover from this and importantly, we need to get those team member numbers that are isolating back into the workforce to recover all of those food supplies.’
The Omicron variant has meant as much as 70 per cent of factory and farms workers are unable to go to work.
The peak industry body is calling for meat workers to get rapid antigen testing priority to keep them working or face a nationwide meat shortage in the next two weeks.
Pictured are January 26 revellers. Coles Chief Operating Officer Matthew Swindells said said Omicron was worsening existing labour shortages
‘This is an emergency as of now,’ Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson told Seven News.
‘We’re now seeing a large amount of meat workers who actually can’t get to work.
‘There’s hundreds and hundreds of staff up and down the eastern seaboard, certainly Queensland, NSW and VIC who aren’t able to get to work at this stage.’
He admitted there may be no lamb by Australia Day.
‘That’s a real possibility unless we get the settings right,’ he replied.
‘I’m actually concerned we will have a shortage because we just won’t have the people on site over the next month to six weeks to be able to process anything.’
An Aussie barbecue could be off the menu on Australia Day due to a national meat shortage caused by Covid (stock image)
AMIC also called for urgent guarantees to be put in place to shore up meat production and supply capacity.
‘In what is already a hugely challenging meat supply landscape, with record high livestock prices and labour shortages due to Covid border closures, we are hearing that multiple meat processing establishments are now having to temporarily shut their doors or operate at very low capacities due to the Omicron surge’, Mr Hutchinson said in a statement.
‘We are experiencing an unprecedented wave of staffing unpredictability.
Shortages of meat on supermarket shelves haven’t gone unnoticed by disappointed customers (pictured, a Coles on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast
‘As Covid spreads in the community, our industry workers are unable to present for work for at least seven days should someone in their family or household test positive, under the current national Covid protocol.’
‘In some instances, we are hearing that under 30 percent of rostered workers have presented for work.’
The surge of Covid-19 cases continues to cause widespread chaos, despite the national cabinet amending the definition of close contacts to ease isolation rules.
Bare meat shelves have become the new norm at this Coles store on the Sunshine Coast, according to shopper Jett
The rules have also been overhauled for positive Covid cases, who only have to isolate for a week if they have no symptoms on day seven.
Woolworths says its shortage of produce such as meat is due to a logistical issue rather than a supply issue.
‘The pandemic has delivered many challenges over the past two years and will continue to do so as we move into this next phase,’ a spokesman told Daily Mail Australia.
‘We’re currently experiencing delays with some of our stock deliveries to stores due to Covid-related impacts on our supply chain operations.
‘We have stock available within our network and our teams and suppliers are doing all they can to replenish stores as quickly as possible.’
‘We thank our customers for their patience and apologise for the inconvenience.’
Daily Mail Australia also contacted Coles for comment.
Retailers Association’ spokesperson Fleur Brown expects the supply chain issues will continue for at least 12 months.
‘However, they are critical at the moment,’ she said.
‘They will ease a little as we get over the Omicron curve.’