coronavirus impact: Retailers, online grocers restrict purchases; put cap on quantity to prevent hoarding

KOLKATA/MUMBAI: Retailers – large chains, e-grocers and kiranas – are restricting the quantity of products their consumers can purchase at one go amid low supplies and indications that hoarding of essentials is on the rise on fears that the lockdown may be extended or lifted with restrictions.

Spencer’s Retail, EasyDay, Nature’s Basket, Grofers, Reliance Retail, More and kiranas in most cities have imposed curbs on essential commodities such as sugar, atta, rice, pulses, oil, milk, biscuits, disinfectants, handwashes and breakfast cereals.

Future Group’s EasyDay has limited purchases to two units of 500 gm butter packs, 20 kg of atta, five litres of oil and five kg of pulses. Spencer’s Retail’s caps include two litres of tetrapak milk, two units of 100 gm butter, two units of large biscuit packs and atta. Kirana stores have set restrictions on staples and sugar.

“In the interest of our consumers, in certain essential staples we are following quantity restrictions as we work at our backend with suppliers to manage the supply of essentials,” said Spencer’s Retail and Nature’s Basket MD Devendra Chawla.

Online grocer Grofers has set a cap on atta, rice, cooking oil, pulses, sanitisers and hand washes. It doesn’t allow more than 12 unique stock keeping units per order, said CEO Albinder Dhindsa.

Neville Noronha, MD at Avenue Supermarts, the operator of DMart, said the retailer is asking customers to restrict panic buying but not enforcing quantity restrictions.

Reliance Retail did not respond to an email, but an executive said it is not allowing bulk purchases of staples and other products.

Retailers said indications of hoarding came from the increase in average bill values over the past few days and consumers making repeat purchases. Some states including Maharashtra have said the lockdown may be extended in certain areas, while social media rumours are also rife, fuelling such purchases.

Supermarket chain More said the average bill value for food and grocery has doubled from pre-lockdown days with some families even purchasing goods worth Rs 10,000 at one go. At Grofers, there’s been a 48% jump in bill values to Rs 2,140 now from Rs 1,450.

More Retail deputy MD Mohit Kampani said demand is far higher than current supply. “We are working hard to build inventory,” he said.

Even kiranas across the country have restricted the sale of sugar, essential food items, oil and biscuits.

“Shortage of these products led to price increase and it is best to curtail demand to reverse the hike,” said Chandrakant Gala, secretary of the Bombay Suburban Grain Dealers Association, which represents kirana stores in the city.

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