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Dealing with Coronavirus Food Shortages

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by Roy Chambers (subscribe)
Lover of all things interesting and new
Published April 14th 2020
Some foods will remain in short supply because of COVID-19
While most sections of the supermarket are full, the ongoing pandemic means that some things that are not returning to shelves. This is because some global supply have been disrupted by COVID-19 and we need to replan our diets around what we can no longer get.

Some shelves remain bare because of genuine shortages of products
Some shelves remain bare because of genuine shortages of products

We are not running out of food

Australia produces enough food to feed 75 million people and we have a population of 25 million people. So we are not going to starve to death. Yes, we have had some things being bought out, not because of panic buying, but simply because supermarkets only keep 2 days worth of stock on the shelves. Which means if even some people one week decide to buy extra toilet paper, rice and beans, the shelves become empty.

The most recent claim of panic buying was flour and eggs. Nope, you had all these people stuck at home over easter who had watched too much of The Great British Bake Off who decided to bake their way through the lockdown to save money and for fun. Of course, flour and eggs ran out. But they will be back on the shelves soon.

But some items are not returning to the shelves

Some items are not coming back to the shelves though. A lot of these are imported items, which means that there are no stockpiles in warehouses to replenish shelves, but are instead, hopefully, coming across the water at their normal pace. Some items will have their supply chain disrupted because of lockdowns in the country of origin, restrictions on imports to Australia as well as some countries choosing to assure their own supply chains and ban exports.

How to respond to some of the common things that will be in short supply during the pandemic

So we are not going to starve to death, in fact, we will be spending way too much time indoors, so we may end up eating too much. But we will find a number of food items in short supply. This means we may have to change our eating habits and, because many of us have more time now, build up our cooking skills.


One item that Australia is likely to run out of is rice. Which is a pity as it is one of the most versatile staples available. In recent years there has been a move towards more profitable crops, mostly because they are often able to outbid rice growers for irrigation water. As a result, Australia now imports 60% of its rice. This is why rice is slow to be replaced on the shelves, But with many Asian countries prioritising their own food security over imports, Australia may find itself with a permanent rice shortage.

Of course, there are lots of things we can do to replace rice in our meals. Most of these are wheat-based substitutes, which means pasta, the now trendy tortillas, the classic but out of fashion crepes, and various flatbreads including naans, rotis, chapatis and parathas. Of course, many foods go well with your classic loaf of bread.

Rolling out some home made tortillas
Rolling out some home made tortillas

There are lots of alternative grains to rice, with the main one being quinoa, but I am not sure how well the supply chain for this grain will hold up. But of course, the paleo and keto aficionados will argue that we should give up grains altogether.

If you are looking to have a good supply of rice for the near future, then visit your east Asian or Indian grocery stores. They still have 10 and 25 kg bags of various types of rice for sale. Remember, white rice stores better than brown rice, so if you do plan to stock up for months, then white rice will be better.


Beans quickly ran out in the supermarket. The immediate assumption was that people were stocking up on canned goods, which may be true, but many of the cheaper beans come from Italy. With a long supply chain and the fact that it is in a region that is in lockdown, it is easy to understand why there are few beans on the shelves.

Beans are popular among vegetarians and vegans because they are a great source of protein and also they are a cheap source of nutrition in general. Meat eaters can easily just eat more meat, while vegetarians can obtain a lot of protein for dairy and eggs. Vegans will need to find other sources of regular protein, which include things like peas which tend to be locally sourced, quinoa, which may have its own supply chain issues, nuts and mushrooms. Look for the powders and seed mixes that are available. For example, hemp seed is high in protein, and many people sprinkle it in their morning smoothie or on their cereal.

Australian brand dried legumes bought from an Indian grocery store
Australian brand dried legumes bought from an Indian grocery store

You can easily stock up on beans by visiting your Indian or middle eastern shop. They sell bags of different dried beans, often at a cheaper price than supermarkets. My local Indian shop also sells Australian sourced beans and other legumes. My favourite legume is red lentils which can be cooked in 5 minutes without any soaking, but with other beans, you often need to soak them overnight then cook them for a while. Remember, with red kidney beans, they have a lot of lectin, which means you need to cook them properly before eating them.

Canned Tomatoes

A lot of cheap canned tomatoes come from abroad, in particular Italy. As a result, there is a decided shortage of canned tomatoes. But this one is fairly easy to deal with. Along with paying more for Australian canned tomatoes, you can also buy tomato paste instead of tomatoes. The pastes are essentially blended water reduced tomatoes. Yes, they might add other things in there instead. Of course, you can also just cook with fresh tomatoes, though the price of tomatoes is pretty high at the moment and with the shortage of canned tomatoes, we can expect it the price to keep going up.

Alternatively, you can look to cook meals that don't involve tomatoes. Creamy pasta sauces are delicious, though a bit more fatty than tomato-based ones. You might also experiment with a range of other sauces to flavour your pasta, though I like lightly flavoured pasta salads, where I might use lemon and cracked pepper for the flavour.

Pasta salads are great in summer
Pasta salads are great in summer


Pasta shouldn't be something that we are running out of, but empty pasta shelves might be a combination of lack of alternatives such as rice along with some pasta being imported. But pasta can be easily made at home, even without a pasta maker. The German alternative to pasta is spaetzle, which uses a lot of egg, meaning it is high in protein.

Fruit & Vegetables

Whether you shop in supermarkets, fruit shops or at the markets, you may have noticed that the prices are fruit and vegetables are constantly creeping up. Now the supermarkets are arguing that the recent drought meant that many farmers didn't plant for a while, and some fruits and vegetables are imported, especially from China. It might also be about higher demand for fresh produce as more people cook and eat at home, and have time to make proper home-cooked meals. Whatever the reason, we are not out of fruit & vegetables, but in these tough times, the price is making many people avoid buying as much as they would before.

So generally the best option to find cheap fruit and vegetables is at your local farmers market. Turn up around an hour before they close and lots of items will be on special. Though often when I turn up early, I will find individual items at a great price at various sellers. If you come too late, these will often be sold out.

In most cities markets remain open and provide the best option to get good prices on fresh fruit and vegetables
In most cities markets remain open and provide the best option to get good prices on fresh fruit and vegetables

Another option is to choose what you buy. While the latest superfoods attract a higher price, often less trendy items have the same or even better nutrition. Carrots and sweet potatoes are both high in nutrition, with carrots remaining very cheap and sweet potatoes being reasonably priced. Also, don't turn your nose up at frozen foods. Peas lose a lot of their nutritional value in the days after they are picked, which means the frozen ones can be better than the fresh ones. Then frozen berries are great for cakes, smoothies and desserts.

Other imported items

Australia imports a lot of different foods. Some nuts come from South America, processed fruit and vegetables come from many countries and cereals can often be imported. If there is something that you really love to eat (or worse yet, something your fussy kids insist on eating), don't feel ashamed to stock up a bit on them. However in most cases what we are likely to see temporary shortages or prices rising because of lack of supply.

But seafood is abundant

China first banned sales of seafood to their country, and with wet markets mostly closed, exports of the much sought after Australian seafood is down. This means, for us Aussies, this is the perfect time to enjoy great Australian seafood at great prices.

Check out the cheap deals on Australian seafood
Check out the cheap deals on Australian seafood


Most people's immediate reaction to COVID-19 has often been to be annoyed that something has changed. I have seen people in the supermarket going "I don't have anything to go with my meal at home, but I am not going to buy brown rice." Personally, I have resisted buying the pasta shapes that I don't like. But the world is in a crisis, having to learn to make spaetzle, cook with dried beans and sometimes do without what you normally eat is not that big a price to pay.

If people know of any foods that we are likely to be short of for some time or have suggestions on ways to overcomes the shortages, let me know in the comments. There will be a lot of little unexpected outcomes of COVID-19 that we as a community need to work through and around.
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Why? Some foods will remain in short supply because of COVID-19
When: Until the pandemic is over
Your Comment
Roy where do you get your own place formation?

Australia will not run out of rice! We do have supply issues for the export market but for our domestic market we will be fine.

After seeing several of your articles you clearly wrote click bait to get paid.

Please be more responsible with your articles as half your information is useful.

Most frozen berries come from Chile now so most likely will have supply issues.

We will have to change our HABITS and maybe go back to eating seasonal produce which is locally grown.

Take a look at Carmenís an how they have a domestic supply chain but the multi nationals donít.

The main thing I think you missed with your miss information is that with people eating at home at the moment the supermarkets are not keeping 2 days supply. They are purely not coping with the extra sales. They are getting better at it but general comments like yours are not helping.

Best tip is change the way we shop to have items in the pantry like we did up until the 70ís. Everyone used to do one big weekly or fortnightly shop and buy milk and bread at the corner store daily.

Weekend notes could also screen some of the misinformation coming through.
by 42ess (score: 1|63) 763 days ago
Making spaetzle from lots of eggs? LoL. First you need to get eggs.
by jens. (score: 0|4) 761 days ago
So people are still believing in the hoarding news!!! How can you hoard if there is nothing on the shelves? Even if you wanted to hoard, all you could buy would be limited to just 1 or 2 items. And it's been months like that. Time to open your eyes and realised that you've been conned. Don't you smell something fishy about hoarding news?
by minh. (score: 0|4) 762 days ago
Just made damper and sofa focaccia. Doesnítít use a lot of flour. Savoury or sweet 👍
by coyle (score: 0|4) 763 days ago
We export some type of rice to Japan believe it or not! If we are unable to export at the moment we may have supplies.
by brian (score: 1|28) 763 days ago
articles like this are only going to restart panic buying. Shouldn't write something that is clearly going to start people rushing to the grocery stores again with panic buys.
by donna (score: 1|52) 763 days ago
Great article! Thanks. Informative and useful.
by carmel (score: 0|2) 763 days ago
Replacing rice with pasta is all very well for those not gluten free. Corn is not a good alternative for coeliacs as it can be just as bad as wheat. Rice is the best, and the best gluten free pasta is made from rice.
by diala (score: 1|22) 762 days ago
I also being a full time worker, understand and fully agree about your point about some people who may be doing extra shifts at the moment that may not have the same luxury in regards flexibility, and that some foods of convenience are preferred. That is an exception in this case I believe.

In reference to your comment regarding a spaetzle maker (without having one), you can use either a pasta colander, a potato ricer or a wide Skimmer spoon (is similar to a slotted spoon although has holes a little different to your usual slotted spoon) these are available anywhere e.g. Myer, most kitchen shops. :)
by kerry (score: 0|2) 762 days ago
Hi Roy. Thanks for the article, it was a wonderful overview of our food shortage situation. I always enjoy your articles on places to go to and this one was equally good! Thanks MS
by marli (score: 0|4) 762 days ago
I only buy Australian seafood. Haven't noticed retail prices dropping, but the fishermen/ trawler operators are getting very low prices.
by curri (score: 1|73) 761 days ago
Great article, you make some good points. I being of a Greek background, I was always taught to make use of any foodstuff and how to make things from scratch when it came to cooking (so a lot of seasonal cooking and adapting recipes with a range of ingredients).We also were taught to respect food whether it be foods that are humble and not so luxurious. I find it appalling that some people are being so fussy and is food whatever that may need it to survive, other people in the world do not have agree it is not a big price to pay...
by kerry (score: 0|2) 762 days ago
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