Consumer goods fly off the shelves as coronavirus spreads in India

KOLKATA |NEW DELHI | BENGALURU: Ecommerce platforms, retail chains and kirana stores reported a sharp surge in sales of staples, daily necessities and personal hygiene products in the past few days as panic buying took hold across India amid the fear of closures as Covid-19 cases rise.

Deliveries have been delayed and some items such as sanitisers have gone off shelves or are unavailable online. Retailers and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies said there are no shortages and that they will speed up supplies to shops besides seeking to curb hoarding. They said sales are up 15-45% depending on the category.

Products such as rice, atta, pulses, edible oil, sugar, biscuit, tea, instant noodle, butter, frozen food, soaps, handwashes and floor cleaners are flying off the shelves in Mumbai, Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Ahmedabad, said executives of Future Group, Grofers, Spencer’s Retail and sellers on Amazon and Flipkart.

Other big sellers are sanitisers, floor cleaners, honey, chyawanprash, toilet paper, tissues and wet wipes. Sites are trying to clamp down on anyone trying to corner goods in high demand.

“Supply has not been an issue so far,” said Grofers CEO Albinder Dhindsa. “We are also taking a hard approach to hoarding of essential commodities. A lot of people are trying to game the system to acquire items and we are working proactively to block them and make sure essential supplies are available to genuine customers.”

The closure of offices, malls, schools, colleges, multiplexes, pubs and restaurants by almost all state governments along with work-fromhome directives have also boosted in-home consumption.


“Panic buying is happening and likely to continue for at least one two weeks more,” said biscuit maker Parle Products category head Mayank Shah. “We have received frenzied calls from the trade to supply stock since the pipeline has become almost dry. There is 15-20% increase over usual sales.”

E-grocer BigBasket said it has witnessed demand double over the past few days across cities, with order values going up 20% on average. SoftBank-backed Grofers registered an increase in demand of around 80% in Mumbai alone over the weekend while cities like New Delhi and Bengaluru clocked an average 50% spike in the past two days, CEO Dhindsa told ET. Orders are up 45% by number and 18% by value, it said.

The unprecedented demand has led to delays, with the shortage of delivery personnel adding to the bottleneck. Some fast-moving staples like onions, potatoes, rice, and wheat, are stocked out across platforms, said online grocery firms.

Others, which are also dependent on imports such as coffee, diapers, dry fruits, oils and cereals, are expected to run into a supply crunch, executives at these firms said.

“Our business is very capacity dependent and you cannot create new capacity which includes storage and manpower overnight,” said Hari Menon, CEO, BigBasket.

FMCG companies ITC Ltd, Parle Products, Amul and Godrej Consumer are rushing stock to stores and said supplies of high-selling categories would meet demand. Amul managing director RS Sodhi said ecommerce platforms and kiranas have reported a surge in demand, some selling out next week’s stock on Saturday itself.


“We have started ramping up our ecommerce and home delivery,” said Devendra Chawla, managing director of Spencer’s Retail and Nature’s Basket.

In a note to consumers, Future Group CEO Kishore Biyani said the retailer has taken note of higher demand for certain categories and is working hard to replenish shelves quickly.

Executives said retailers and ecommerce firms have started to stock up on the 100 most-sold products in their stores to ensure that they can continue supplies in case of any uncertainty.

Reliance Retail CEO (grocery) Damodar Mall said the priority is to ensure essentials are available and at continued fair prices. Future Group’s Big Bazaar stores in Delhi-NCR, Kerala and Bengaluru have seen demand for food items like rice, flour, dal, milk surge 15-20% over last several days.

Hand sanitisers of leading brands remain in short supply.

Godrej Consumer Products MD Vivek Gambhir said the company has ramped up production.

Two leading FMCG sellers on Amazon and Flipkart said sales have risen 15%. “We are now stocking for 35-40 days as compared to 20-25 days earlier,” one of them said. Amazon declined to comment.

Flipkart didn’t respond to queries. Micro delivery startups like Swiggy-owned SuprDaily and MilkBasket forecast delays in deliveries by a few hours over the weekend, citing increased demand. These firms typically make early-morning deliveries before 7 am, for a select set of grocery items and milk.

Two-hour delivery service Amazon Now has also been incurring delays while Flipkart Supermart is seeing orders being delayed by more than a day. This is due to a mix of increased demand and a lack of delivery personnel. Amazon and Flipkart did not respond to ET’s separate email on this matter.

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