Greek supermarkets limit flour, sunflower oil purchases as customers hoard

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A shopping cart is seen full of goods in a super market in Athens, Greece, March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Constantina Peppa/File Photo

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ATHENS, March 24 (Reuters) - Supermarket chains in Greece said on Thursday they are restricting how much flour and sunflower oil customers can buy, saying the step was precautionary after seeing demand rise on worries supplies will be hit due to the war in Ukraine.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to a surge in prices and concerns about product shortages across industries in the European Union. Both Russia and Ukraine are key suppliers of sunflower oil and wheat.

Following similar measures in Spain and Italy, four Greek supermarket chains - AB, Sklavenitis, Kritikos and My Market - said they had limited online and in some cases in-store purchases this week of flour and sunflower oil. AB said it has placed a limit of 3 bags of flour and 3 bottles of oil per customer.

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The Secretary General for Commerce and Consumer Protection Sotiris Anagnostopoulos told Ant1 TV on Thursday that demand for some products had increased three-fold in recent weeks as shoppers stock up. The government said this week that so far, there were no shortages. Officials at three of the supermarket chains confirmed that was the case on Thursday.

"The reason for the cap on these products is only precautionary, as our customers are concerned about the war in Ukraine," an official at AB supermaket chain, who declined to be named, told Reuters. "We want to ensure we will be able to serve our customers' needs in the future too."

Officials at the other three supermarket chains also told Reuters that they had imposed restrictions on flour or sunflower oil.

Greece imports about 250,000 tonnes of soft wheat from Russia and Ukraine, about 30% of its total wheat imports, the agriculture minister said earlier this month.

The government has asked suppliers, such as supermarkets and other food retailers, to declare stockpiles of products including fertilisers, animal food, grains, flour, sunflower and other vegetable oils.

"Flour and sunflower oil are the two products which, apart from energy, the war has affected more than anything else," Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis told Ant1 TV this week. "There are already shortages throughout Europe."

Spanish supermarkets have limited the purchase of sunflower oil to a few bottles per person. read more

Some supermakets in Italy have implemented similar measures. Unicoop Firenze said limits had been placed on sugar, flour and sunflower oil purchases while Eurospin confirmed its shops had placed limits on flour and sunflower oil.

On Tuesday, Cristina Polcri, a shopper in the town of Sansepolcro in Tuscany told Reuters she found the local COOP supermarket shelves empty of sunflower oil and flour restricted to four kilos per customer.

Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis will chair a government meeting on Monday to discuss potential shortages due to the war in Ukraine, the government spokesman said on Thursday, without providing any further details.

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Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Lefteris Papadimas in Athens and Giselda Vagnoni in Rome;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

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