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Coronavirus fear keeps grocery shelves empty as labour, supply fall short

FMCG manufacturers say that transportation continues to be the biggest challenge, despite the government making it clear that movement of essential goods would not be stopped

twitter-logo Ajita Shashidhar        Last Updated: March 31, 2020  | 03:40 IST
Coronavirus fear keeps grocery shelves empty as labour, supply fall short

As the COVID-19 lockdown enters the second week, shelves of retailers continue to be empty. A lot of consumers have indulged in panic buying over the last one week, but retailers are saying that stocks aren't reaching their doorstep either. Jiten Parekh, owner of a grocery store in suburban Mumbai, says that he plans to shut down his store for the next few weeks as he has absolutely nothing to sell. However, Karan Shah, who also runs a grocery store in the city, has himself started picking up products from distributors. "While my father is taking care of the shop floor, I travel from Parel to Dahisar throughout the day picking up products of different manufacturers. The distributors don't have people to deliver," says Shah.

FMCG manufacturers say that transportation continues to be the biggest challenge, despite the government making it clear that movement of essential goods would not be stopped. "We have been working closely with state authorities and local administration to ensure that manufacturing and distribution activities continue uninterrupted with minimum people. While we have progressively obtained permissions in some states, availability of trucks continues to be the biggest challenge at the moment. Interstate and local truck movement has been severely impacted together with the challenge of shortage of manpower in factories," says an ITC spokesperson.

R.S. Sodhi, MD and Chairman, Amul, says that while his company's products are getting delivered to distributors, the latter are unable to deliver due to an acute manpower shortage. "Labour is a huge problem. Due to the COVID-19 scare, a lot of them have gone home. This problem will persist for a few more days."

Similarly, P.C. Musthafa, Founder of ID Foods, says that out of the 45 cities that his company services (products like dosa-idli batter, paneer and filter coffee), it is able to deliver in only five cities. "Borders are still shut in many places. We were not allowed to enter Mangalore, neither were our trucks allowed on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway." Musthafa says that since his company owns its distribution network, life has been a tad bit easier. "The traditional FMCG majors who supply to distributors, who in turn go to retailers and take orders and then supply are finding it difficult because of the manpower shortage. Retailers are not getting enough SKUs to keep their stores open."

Srini Vudayagiri, CEO of biscuit company, Unibic, says that his company is trying to get in touch with its labourers and trying to convince them to come back to work. "We are telling them that we are making arrangements for their food and stay. We are also telling them that we have started getting passes from the authorities which will allow them to come to work. I am keeping my fingers crossed that it gives them assurance to come back."

Vudayagiri says that ever since the lockdown was announced, the biggest problem for most FMCG manufacturers was clarity on what is essential and what isn't. "We had to convince them that biscuits are long shelf-life products and during a calamity like this, the propensity of picking up products such as biscuits and cakes are high." Though the government has allowed movement of all goods provided they get a permit for the same, Vudaygiri says it will take time for things to get streamlined.

In order to improve its delivery efficiency at a time when the traditional distributors are not able to deliver due to manpower shortage, the likes of Unibic are partnering with third-party logistic companies. "We believe it will take a few more days for the entire ecosystem and processes to be streamlined for the movement of essential goods," says the ITC spokesperson.

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