Johannesburg - Regulatory bodies have informally been made aware of consumer complaints of retailers raising the price of essential goods following the coronavirus outbreak in South Africa, despite chain stores insisting this is not the case.

The Competition Commission of South Africa (CCSA) as well as the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) said that although they have not received formal complaints from shoppers about the increased cost of staple groceries, sanitary and baby items following the outbreak of the pandemic in recent weeks, they had seen social media posts regarding this.

“CGCSA is aware mostly via social media platforms where some consumers have expressed concern about what they feel are unjustified price increases,” media liaison officer Sure Kamhunga said.

“CGCSA is aware of general complaints from consumers about product price increases that they feel are unjustified,” he said.

CCSA’s head of communication, Sipho Ngwenya, said it did not have official reports, but had seen complaints on social media.

Both urged consumers who witness undue price increases on items such as sanitary, hygiene and baby products, dry pasta, UHT milk, tinned foods, immune boosters and vitamins to formally report the matter to them instead of taking their grievances to social media.

This week, the government announced that those who are found guilty of increasing the price of essential goods by more than the increases in the cost to produce these products during the pandemic, could face a hefty fine as well as possible imprisonment. This is part of strict new regulations, signed by Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel and are part of the Disaster Management Act and are interventions to protect shoppers during this unprecedented health crisis. But retailers have insisted that their prices on the goods in question have not been hiked recently.

All three retailers said they were aware of shoppers stockpiling essential goods such as toilet paper, hand sanitiser and other cleaning products, cooking oils, wheat flour, rice, maize meal, pasta, sugar, baby products, canned, frozen and fresh meat and bottled water and were all setting limits on these products.

Woolworths said shoppers would be permitted to buy only five units per product per customer while Shoprite added it was working closely with suppliers to ensure that additional stock was secured at affordable prices in order to meet the increased demand.

Pick * Pay said there was no reason for customers to stock up beyond their normal shopping and that it was opening stores an hour early each Wednesday for customers over the age of 65.

“In this way, they can limit the number of times they are in busy spaces.”

Saturday Star