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Coronavirus pandemic| Will hoarding be the new normal in India?

With a fear of running out of supplies, a trend of buying more than what is required of essential goods is being seen across India.

April 11, 2020 / 09:24 AM IST
A woman wearing face mask walks past empty shelf of tissue papers at a supermarket in Hong Kong, Feb. 6, 2020.(AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

A woman wearing face mask walks past empty shelf of tissue papers at a supermarket in Hong Kong, Feb. 6, 2020.(AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

At a market in suburban Mumbai, an SUV drives in and the vehicle owner instructs the vegetable seller to pack 5 kilograms of every vegetable that is available. It is a big order and the seller is more than happy to do so.

When you ask the buyer if he is planning to donate these items or buying for someone else, pat comes the reply. "You never know what happens with this coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown. At least I will have a good variety at home," he says.

Vegetables are among perishable items and it is likely that the almost 50 kgs of produce he bought would start rotting within a few days. But he seemed to be least concerned.

As the murmurs of a lockdown extension has hit messaging platforms, the hoarding has already begun. Across India, customers starting queuing outside supermarkets and vegetable vendors from April 8, seemingly to pick up every product available.


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Pan-India grocery retailers told Moneycontrol that it was not just the regular food items where people chose to buy 'family packs' with 5 kg or more worth goods, but also for unusual products.

For instance, a packed food supplier in Kolkata said that the demand for yeast and baking powder has more than trebled over the past two weeks. Whether or not people are baking breads and cakes, they are stocking up these items for sure.

Kasi Tevar, a Tamil Nadu-based rice and spice trader is now stocking wheat flour since customers are ordering 'atta' in bulk.

"We are still a rice eating state. I wonder if people are switching to rotis or are they merely buying it and storing these products at home," he says.

At several locations, social media users shared pictures and stories about how people are unnecessarily buying items in multiple quantities with no consideration for others.

When one person buys in bulk, the rest behind them in queue lose out. With supply of essential goods being delayed due to slower movement from source to destination and absence of transportation, senior citizens are the most hit.

"I have been coming to the store to buy coffee powder and oil for the past two weeks. I need to stand in queue for almost an hour in the scorching sun only to find that someone ahead in the queue has bought the entire stock at the shop," says Kolkata-resident Mahadevan.

In countries like the United States and several parts of Europe, grocery chains are either putting restrictions on the number of units of a product (especially toilet paper and hand santisers) or charging 50 percent more of the retail price from individuals buying bulk quantities of essential goods. It is high time India also adopts this practice to avoid over-purchase and hoarding by customers.

As a Delhi-based advertising professional says, "I understand you are stocking up. But one surely would not need 10 kg of butter and 20 tetra packs of milk. There are others who do not have even a single packet. Leave some for those too."

Once the lockdown is lifted, it is likely that this hoarding practice will continue till a complete flattened curve of COVID-19 is seen. How the individual stores restrict buyers from buying unreasonable quantities will be closely watched.

Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.
M Saraswathy
first published: Apr 11, 2020 09:24 am
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