ACCUSATIONS of price gouging at some supermarkets are increasing, as shoppers in the Wellington Shire baulk at paying higher prices for some foods and items at this time of peak demand.
Several outraged residents have phoned the Gippsland Times to report what they consider unfairly inflated prices and vast price variations between stores, particularly on fresh fruit and vegetables.
One Maffra resident said the price increases were hurting the elderly and vulnerable, and should be outlawed.
"I have been doing the right thing by social distancing, but had to go down the street on Saturday and one supermarket had a five kilo bag of potatoes for $20, while the other supermarket had the exactly same bag for around $10," she said.
"This isn't fair that supermarkets can do this, I am quite upset and it seems its happening everywhere."
However, Rod Simms, the head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and Australia's leading market watchdog, said its investigations had shown no evidence of price gouging.
He said regulations had recently changed to allow Australia's supermarkets to work with each other to ensure shelves were stocked during the outbreak. But those temporary rules do not cover agreements on retail prices, which were more governed by the supply chain.
A spokesman for Metcash, which owns IGA, said higher prices on some items was being incorrectly interpreted as price gouging.
He said while supermarkets were working together to get through the coronavirus crisis, some smaller stores were independently owned and its prices were set by individual retailers who sourced from different suppliers.
"You have to remember that fresh produce comes from local, independent suppliers and are subject to market increases," he said.
"They buy for what they can from who they can and that determines the price."
A spokesman for AUSVEG, which represents more than 5000 vegetable growers, said the reason behind any price rises and variations was "complex", with the drought delaying some plantings and availability.
Shaun Lindhe said supply and demand was a major factor, exacerbated by the sudden panic buying that was creating a distortion of the market.
"The fruit and vegetable industry has always been susceptible to extreme weather events and now we have higher demand," he said.
"Currently, we have a reduction in supply, but increased demand, but we do expect that to ease."
Mr Lindhe said Australians were lucky because supplies could be sourced from many different regions, but there were often costs involved in getting product to market.
Different prices in different stores could be explained by the variations in where they sourced their stock, he said.
But Gippsland grower Andrew Bulmer, who runs one of Australia's largest salad suppliers, said the current supply and delivery distortion was likely to continue.
He said while growers had enjoyed a brief "Christmas-like" rush on produce, it was set to end in a substantial crash, with millions of dollars in crops left to rot in the ground because of the virtual closure of the hospitality industry.
"Our orders have dried up almost overnight," he said.
"We can't get the workers because of bans on travel and movement, and that will not only impact on availability, it will result in higher prices for longer than anticipated."