Warehouse stores limiting rice sales

Sam's Club, Wal-Mart's warehouse retailer, has joined Costco in limiting sales of some rice to four bags per customer. Sarah Gardner reports on rising food prices and consumer habits.

KAI RYSSDAL: Here's a news item you might not expect to hear on an American radio broadcast. Wal-Mart's decided to ration rice. Today the retailer's warehouse division, Sam's Club, announced it's limiting sales of certain kinds of rice to four bags per customer. The CEO of Costco said the same thing yesterday.

Sarah Gardner reports on rising food prices and consumer habits.

SARAH GARDNER: Sam's Club released a short statement today saying they were limiting sales of Jasmine, Basmati and long-grain white rices. Rival Costco says some of its stores have also restricted purchases of rice and flour. Both warehouse chains report heavy demand for the food staples recently. Tim Johnson, president of the California Rice Commission, suspects many of the chain's small business buyers, like restaurants and grocers, are stocking up.

TIM JOHNSON: Faced with the price increases that we've had in the last year, where prices have almost doubled, folks are making a decision now to purchase in anticipation that prices will go up more.

Prices took a big jump recently after India and Vietnam announced they would curb rice exports in order to stabilize prices at home. Thailand may soon join them. USDA economist Ephraim Leibtag.

EPHRAIM LEIBTAG: For the average consumer, again, it's just a question of what substitutes are available, although currently a lot of food products are going up at the same time, so it seems like there are going to be higher prices here across the board.

Basmati and Jasmine rice are largely imported, but US growers say there's no shortage of domestically grown long-grain rice. Costco's CEO said yesterday his store was moving to ease limits. "We don't want to create a panic situation."