After news of global shortage, residents empty rice shelves

Posted: Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tuesday morning at Costco, what is ordinarily a week's supply of long-grain rice sold out in the first 10 minutes the store was open.

Seong Kim, owner of Seong's Sushi Bar, just missed the last bag. He said he paid twice as much for smaller bags of rice at retail markets.

"There's definitely been a run on rice," said Steve Drake, Costco's assistant manager for merchandise. "But there is no rice shortage."

Recent rice shortages have sparked riots around the world. Apparently anticipating the dearth would hit local stores, Juneau residents have been snapping up the biggest sacks at some supermarkets for the last week. But most store managers said the shortage was created by the customers.

At the Alaskan & Proud market, a cardboard sign reading "OUT OF STOCK" occupied the bottom shelf where the biggest bags of long-grain Calrose rice usually sit. Smaller bags of rice and other varieties were available.

Alaskan & Proud Manager Vhee Batac said he put in a larger order and didn't expect to have any problems getting it.

But Sue Luckey, a manager at the Super Bear Supermarket in the Mendenhall Valley, said her supplier wouldn't give her the larger order she requested, and a shipment of Asian rice wasn't going to come in for three weeks.

At an eight-hour sale on Saturday that was scheduled to start at 9 a.m., enough people showed up early that the supermarket opened at 8:30 a.m. The big bags of rice on sale sold out by 9 a.m., Luckey said - even with a limit of two bags per customer.

Luckey said her supplier's prices hadn't gone up significantly. But even if they did, she said, Super Bear would likely hold down costs of staples such as rice and compensate by adjusting other prices.

The empty shelves may have spoken of panic among some. Kim said he was hoping nervous rice-buyers would calm down soon.

"There's still sushi at Seong's," he said. "But if they keep doing that, there won't be."

Other rice consumers expressed only mild concern, if any.

Juneau resident Roald Simonson was a bit disappointed this weekend to find Costco was out of the Japanese rice he wanted for a sushi dinner. Instead he bought arborio rice, and made risotto.

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