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Kirana shops in states under COVID-induced lockdowns face a supply crunch

FMCG companies are striving hard to maintain supplies but general stores are facing a scarcity because of logistics, manpower, and regulatory challenges. The situation can deteriorate if lockdowns are extended.

April 27, 2021 / 05:30 PM IST

The supply of branded as well as unbranded essential goods to kirana stores has suffered due to the lockdown.

The supply of branded as well as unbranded essential goods to kirana stores has suffered due to the lockdown.

Kirana stores are facing a supply crunch in states under lockdown because many warehouses are not allowed to open, distributors are unable to dispatch goods as many employees have either tested COVID-positive or are too scared to step out, and many have not been issued e-passes.

FMCG companies are striving hard to deliver the goods but numerous restrictions, which vary from state to state, have obstructed smooth transit, hitting supplies of branded and unbranded goods to stores, particularly in Maharashtra, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand, which have been under lockdown.

“We have to serve customers as well as get our deliveries from the distributors in the 7-11 AM slot itself. Since distributors are coming from all over Mumbai and they have to service 30-40 shops in an area, deliveries of certain products suffer,” says Vipul Chedda, who operates Chedda Grain Store in Andheri East.

Supply of unbranded food grains such as wheat and pulses, which are sourced from Vashi, has fallen by 60 percent, while overall sales are down 75 percent, said Chedda. Overall sales of the stores, he says, have slumped by 75 percent.

Impact beyond metros

Shops in other parts of the state report a similar trend.

“Stocks of ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat products such as Maggi, Parle-G, Krackjack, instant pasta, mayonnaise is in short supply,” says Charanjit Bharaj, owner of Needs The Super Store in Pune.

Maharashtra has announced a state-wide curfew from April 14-May 1, wherein general stores are allowed to open from 7-11 AM.

Stores are struggling as distributors have either run out of stock or are unable to deliver products because of manpower shortage. Retailers in Maharashtra source several unbranded products such as poha, rava and maida from neighbouring states such as Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh which are also under lockdown.

Tushar Kothari, who owns Quality House Supermarket in Budhana, said different states having different rules has also impacted the supply of products.

Supply interrupted

Chhattisgarh is under complete lockdown and several districts in the state had not allowed grocery stores to open until May 24. Distributors in the state’s capital said they were not allowed to open their warehouses, which crippled supplies to the entire state. Though several districts including the state capital Raipur have extended the lockdown to May 6, some relaxations such as home delivery of groceries are allowed this time.

“We had to source products from Varanasi depot as Raipur depot was not allowed to open for several days,” says Ravi Agarwal, a distributor of Hindustan Unilever (HUL) in Ambikapur, Chhattisgarh. “Supply of several products have run dry. Usually, we would get the supply two times in a week but this time it just came once,” he adds.

As distributors are unable to source products from Raipur, there is a shortage of products like Lifebuoy Soap, Kissan  Tomato Ketchup, Red Lable Tea, 1 kg pack of Surf Excel in the town.

Several other kirana shops in other towns of the state are also facing shortages.

Regulatory and manpower-related constraints

In Delhi, where the six-day lockdown from April 19 has been extended up to May 3, distributors have been unable to get e-passes and hence cannot operate.

“I could not attain a pass for myself and my staff and hence we are unable to supply products to our retailers,” says Raman Singh, a distributor of Twinings in New Delhi.

Retailers and distributors are also struggling with manpower issues as several of their employees are turning COVID positive.

Vivek Akhouri, an HUL distributor in Ranchi, is left with just 15 employees out of around 100 as several turned COVID-positive and others are unwilling to venture out fearing they too would get infected. Jharkhand is under lockdown until April 29.

Though FMCG companies are trying to implement their learnings from last year to avoid a repeat of the acute scarcity created by the nationwide lockdown, localised restrictions are adding to their troubles. Most kirana store owners expect the situation to get worse if the lockdowns continue.

Devika Singh
first published: Apr 27, 2021 05:30 pm