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War Economy

Rationing of Consumption Goods

Rationing of Consumption Goods

There was very little rationing of consumption goods in the first two years of war. Motorists' supplies were an exception. Petrol was rationed from the outbreak of war. After a brief period of confusion in which some people tried to circumvent the rationing and lay in reserve supplies, coupons were issued to petrol users a fortnight after the outbreak of war. The distribution of rubber tyres was controlled from December 1941, most going to essential users.

Food rationing was avoided until April 1942.2 There had been some panic buying of groceries in the early days of war. The following report from Christchurch appeared in a Wellington daily:3

‘People who have been buying groceries well in excess of their normal requirements have led city grocers to adopt restrictions. In future they will sell only four pounds of sugar, one pound of tea, seven pounds of flour at a time. To avoid multiple purchases at different shops, many stores will serve only their regular customers. To counter requests for twenty-five pound or fifty pound bags of flour, they will in future buy 200 pound sacks and pre-packet in seven pound containers.

‘A city grocer told a reporter this morning that his business this week had been about double the normal. The main requirements by some customers was sugar, tea and flour, and big orders were being put in for tinned fish and fruit. Shop attendants who attempted to restrain customers were bullied into accepting orders, he declared. He pointed out that hoarding was both unnecessary and unfair to other customers who bought normally and the trade was forced to make restrictions.’

The grocers' reaction was sufficient to save the day at this stage. Most people behaved sensibly, though there were some cases of hoarding of a few non-perishable lines. As various groceries became short, many retailers went to the trouble to distribute them as fairly as possible and the need for ration coupons was postponed until 1942.

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2 Sugar was the first item to be rationed, on 27 April 1942.

3 Dominion, 8 September 1939.