At a Costco Warehouse in Mountain View, Calif., yesterday, shoppers grew frustrated and occasionally uttered expletives as they searched in vain for the large sacks of rice they usually buy. Shoppers said the limits had been in place for a few days, and that rice supplies had been spotty for a few weeks. A store manager referred questions to officials at Costco headquarters near Seattle, who did not return calls or e-mail messages yesterday. An employee at the Costco store in Queens said there were no restrictions on rice buying, but limits were being imposed on purchases of oil and flour.
Spiking food prices have led to riots in recent weeks in Haiti, Indonesia, and several African nations. India recently banned export of all but the highest quality rice, and Vietnam blocked the signing of a new contract for foreign rice sales.
The spot shortages seemed to be most frequent in the Northeast and all the way along the West Coast. There are reports of buying limits at Sam’s Club warehouses, which are owned by Wal-Mart Stores, but a spokesman for the company, Kory Lundberg, said he was not aware of any shortages or limits.
For now, rice is available at Asian markets in California, though consumers have fewer choices when buying the largest bags. “At our neighborhood store, it’s very expensive, more than $30” for a 25-pound bag, a housewife from Mountain View, Theresa Esquerra, said. “I’m not going to pay $30. Maybe we’ll just eat bread.”
It is worth noting that potatoes are making a comeback amid all this turmoil.