- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2008


Sam’s Club, the membership warehouse division of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is limiting how much rice customers can buy because of what it calls “recent supply and demand trends,” the company said yesterday.

The broader chain of Wal-Mart stores has no plans to limit food purchases, however.

Sam’s Club said it will limit customers to four bags at a time of Jasmine, Basmati and long-grain white rice. Rice prices have hit record highs recently over worries about tight supplies as part of a global inflation in food costs.

The warehouse chain caters heavily to small businesses, including restaurants. Spokeswoman Kristy Reed said she could not comment on whether the problem was caused by short supplies or by customers stocking up in anticipation of higher prices.

Sam’s Club’s restriction is effective immediately at all locations where quantity restrictions are allowed by law. It does not apply to other staples such as flour and oil.

“We are working with our suppliers to address this matter to ensure we are in stock, and we are asking for our members’ cooperation and patience,” Ms. Reed said.

Sam’s Club has 593 stores compared with 2,523 Wal-Mart Supercenters, which combine a full grocery section with general merchandise.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Deisha Galberth said Wal-Mart stores have no plans for restrictions similar to those at Sam’s Club.

“We are not seeing any signs of concern in the supply chain that would cause us to limit the sales of any items,” Ms. Galberth said.

U.S. rice futures soared to a record high yesterday as investors bet that surging world demand will continue to pressure already dwindling stockpiles. Rice for the most-actively traded July contract jumped 62 cents to $24.82 per 100 pounds on the Chicago Board of Trade, after earlier rising to a record $24.85.

Relentless demand from developing countries and poor crop yields have increased rice prices 70 percent so far this year, raising concerns of severe shortages of the staple food consumed by almost half the world’s population.

The steep increases have followed similar jumps in the price of wheat, corn and soybeans, which have added to Americans’ growing grocery bill and led to violent food riots in poor countries such as Haiti, Senegal and Pakistan.

Most of the rice eaten in the world is consumed within 60 miles of where it is grown, said Nathan Childs, an economist and rice expert with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

U.S. production of long-grain and medium-grain rice is strong, and the global crop is larger than ever, Mr. Childs said. But with some of the principal exporters of the higher-priced rices, such as India and Vietnam, shunning foreign sales to control prices at home, the price of rice has been climbing to new heights.

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