As recommendations to stay home and avoid going out continue in order to help stave off the spread of coronavirus, more and more people are eating at home and taking up hobbies like cooking and baking to pass the time. As a result, the demand for basic ingredients like flour has gone up as increasing numbers of home chefs are buying it to cook with, which has caused the stock of flour products in some supermarkets to run dry.
In the wake of stores selling out, some cunning citizens have turned entrepreneur and taken it upon themselves to resupply the flour market–by reselling flour products at exorbitant prices. On Japanese e-commerce site Mercari, sellers are typically offering flour, pancake mix, okonimiyaki mix, takoyaki mix, and other flour-based batter mixes at two to three times their normal price, and sometimes much more. One seller was even selling one-kilogram bags of bread flour for as much as 1,980 yen each (though those specific listings have since been removed.)
The Japanese government, however, wants its citizens to know that there is no production shortage of flour. The minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, Taku Eto, called the price gouging “extremely outrageous” at a cabinet meeting held on May 1 and expressed concerns that resellers will spark panic buying in other citizens, who, upon seeing the flour for sale online, may come to the conclusion that there is a shortage. “If this reselling continues, the ministry will have to take action,” he said.
Both Eto and the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who held a press conference after the cabinet meeting, encouraged citizens not to panic buy. “We’re aware of the low stock of flour products in some stores,” Suga said. “Currently we have a domestic stockpile of the raw materials needed to make flour, so there is no shortage. Mills were asked to continue working in full production even over the Golden Week holidays, so please make your purchases calmly and rationally.”
As for the administrators of apps like Mercari, they’re doing their own part to combat price-gouging sellers. Mercari itself has released a statement saying that they noticed an increase in flour products listed on its website, but not a significant change in the price of flour. Nevertheless, they are putting efforts into removing overpriced listings, and have also banned the sale of medical equipment such as masks, since selling them at high prices became a major problem in the initial panic, and has since become illegal.
So though there is currently a minor shortage of flour products in stores in Japan, it’s not a permanent shortage, and supermarkets should restock their flour products soon.
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