2 chains limit bulk rice purchases
The limit is mainly on jasmine, basmati and long grain types
The two biggest U.S. warehouse retail chains are limiting how much customers can buy of some types of rice because of what Sam's Club, a division of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
, called yesterday "recent supply and demand trends."
Sam's Club followed Seattle-based Costco Wholesale Corp., which put limits on bulk rice purchases at some mainland stores.
Sam's Club said it will limit customers to four bags at a time of imported jasmine, basmati and long grain white rice. The limits affect 20-pound and larger bags. The broader chain of Wal-Mart stores has no plans to limit food purchases, however.
Costco hasn't set a limit in Hawaii, said Tom Burba, general manager of the Costco store in Waipio, but the chain is implementing what it calls common-sense controls.
"We have no restriction on rice right now; however if someone comes in and tries to buy us out of rice we'll refuse the sale," Burba said.
The moves come as U.S. rice futures hit a record high amid global food inflation, although some experts said the warehouse chains may be reacting less to any shortages than to stockpiling by restaurants and small stores.
In Hawaii, managers for both chains said they have seen a run-up in rice consumption recently.
"The suppliers and distribution centers who sell to restaurants and Mom & Pops were coming in and buying 100 bags of jasmine rice at a time," said Mike McGinty, the grocery manager at Sam's Club in Pearl City. "Then, they were marking it up and selling it for sometimes double the price that they paid for it."
McGinty said his store was limiting sales only of jasmine rice so far.
"The coconut wire is working," Burba said. "Sales of all rice varieties are up. Everyone seems to think that the price of rice is going to go up huge and that we'll run out."
Burba said his store is out of jasmine and brown rice and he's running low on 50-lb. bags of Calrose rice and on medium grain rice.
"I've got a lot of it coming on container," he said. "We have to make sure that we don't run out. I'm seeing some families buy as many as four bags of rice."
Chef Chai Chaowasaree, the owner of Chai's Island Bistro and Singha Thai Cuisine, said that rice costs have gone up, but so far his wholesale supplier hasn't had any problem procuring it.
USA Rice Federation spokes-man David Coia said there is no rice shortage in the United States.
Nathan Childs, an economist and rice expert with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said U.S. production of long grain and medium grain rice is strong.