Empty shelves in a Zaragoza supermarket. / EFE

Spanish supermarkets and stores may limit purchases if there is a risk of shortages

The government has modified the regulation of the retail market within the National Anti-Crisis Plan. Merchants will be able to decide the number of units of a product that each customer can buy


The National Anti-Crisis Plan approved on Tuesday by Spain’s Council of Ministers, goes far beyond the details of the aid and discounts on fuel with which it seeks to limit the impact of the energy crisis on Spanish companies and households.

The Government has taken advantage of the document to introduce some legislative changes that could impact the day-to-day lives of consumers if the situation worsens over time.

Among them, there is a modification of Law 7/1996, of 15 January, which regulates the retail sector, to give supermarkets and stores the ability to limit, in exceptional situations, the number of units of the same product that each customer can buy.

The Government is trying to prevent situations such as those experienced in recent weeks with products such as sunflower oil and milk, which put the supply of these items at risk in many establishments, with customers stockpiling items for fear of a possible shortage situation.

Specifically, and within the National Plan published this Wednesday, 30 March, in the Official State Gazette (BOE), a new section 3 is introduced in the law that establishes that "exceptionally, when there are extraordinary circumstances or force majeure that justify it", merchants may suspend "temporarily" the prohibition established in section 2 of the rule to limit the number of items that can be purchased by each buyer.

Specifically, that section indicates that merchants "may not limit the number of items that can be purchased by each buyer or establish higher prices or remove reductions or incentives for purchases that exceed a certain volume."

In fact, consumer associations have repeatedly sounded the alarm about the legality of the practice of some businesses that had already limited the purchase of certain items, in a period in which the impact of the war, the production stoppages due to the carriers' strike and the collection of citizens.

Facua-Consumers in Action denounced Dia, Mercadona, Mas, El Jamón and Hiperdino for limiting the sale of sunflower oil.

The Royal Decree now approved highlights, however, that these measures to allow businesses to ignore that part of the legislation "must be justified and be adopted in a proportionate manner when necessary to prevent shortages and guarantee consumer access in equitable conditions”.