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By Edith G. Alejandro Staff Reporter

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (September 21, 2001 -- Saipan Tribune)---Shipment delays and anticipation of a price hike on basic commodities have driven local consumers to grocery stores throughout the island to buy food items in huge quantities.

With reports of subsequent deployment of military troops to several strategic areas abroad, storeowners have recorded a sudden increase in sales of canned goods and other food items, as consumers fear a food shortage.

If the situation persists, storeowners said they might be forced to implement limits on the sales of basic commodities and foodstuff to prevent hoarding.

A large number of consumers trooped to grocery stores and supermarkets on the island to buy and store rice, canned goods and frozen meat for fear of insufficient supplies in the next few days due to an anticipated delay in the arrival of shipments from the mainland U.S.

Grocery store owners and attendants reported massive buying of food commodities, amid a decline in the sale of luxury and appliance items. Of 50 DVD players displayed on Price Costco's shelves last week, only six were sold.

At Price Costco, officials disclosed that Kang Hwan rice ran out of supply this week, although other brands are still on the racks.

"We have tripled our orders of these products. There might be a two-week delay on arrival but we have sufficient supply," Price Costco Operations Manager Joey Sablan said.

He said the community should not panic, stressing that the situation does not call for any alarm. But he added that consumers are now more cautious with their money, buying only necessary items.

"Some are into panic-buying. They are storing basic goods. They should not be alarmed.

"So far there is no need to increase the prices and there is sufficient supply. We can still meet the demands," Sablan pointed out.

"The real threat is by the third or fourth week of October. But we are carefully watching the developments in the U.S.," he said.

At the same time, Payless Supermarket official Ed Comfort advised consumers that they should not resort to panic buying.

"We won't allow panic buying or hoarding. If that happens we will enforce a limit on how many items customers can buy," said Comfort.

Although he admitted that there are problems with airfreight, he stressed that there are enough supplies of food items available in various stores on Saipan.

Meanwhile, Meitetsu Store operators admitted that they ran out of Japanese goods. But store attendants said orders have been placed and the shipments are expected to arrive as scheduled.

In San Jose Mart, attendants said consumers bought items in unusually big quantities. But they said that supplies are coming in on time and that a shortage remains an unlikely possibility.

However, some investors are concerned that they may be forced to increase retail prices of their commodities if gasoline prices start rising as a result of the impending war against terrorism.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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