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REUTERS/WILLY KURNIAWAN
Demand-supply gap.
RUNNING SHORT

Suppliers struggle to keep up as coronavirus-hit India stocks up on preventive items

Sangeeta Tanwar
By Sangeeta Tanwar

I write about all things retail

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Even small changes in China have global effects.

With coronavirus cases on the rise, demand for preventive products has shot up in India and suppliers are scrambling to keep pace.

The sale of masks, sanitisers, and safety goggles has increased between 100% and 400% over the past few months, according to data shared by business-to-business (B2B) sellers, and e-commerce companies.

As of March 11, there were over 60 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country.

Better be safe than sorry

Sales of masks across India doubled to around 1.2 million in February from the usual monthly average of around 600,000, according to All Food and Drug Licence Holders Foundation, which represents around 7,000 pharmaceutical suppliers.

The demand for mask-making machines has also jumped by 250% in the past one month, according to B2B marketplace Tradeindia.com. “We have witnessed over 10x growth in demand for face masks…protective suits, sterile surgical gloves, and goggles in the last month,” said Vivek Tiwari, founder and CEO of Medikabazaar, another B2B platform. The company sold half a million masks in February in India.

The trend is the same on business-to-consumer e-commerce portals.

Snapdeal, for instance, saw a 25-fold increase in the sale of sanitisers and hand washes in the first week of March. “Consumers are buying larger product packs. The sale of 5-litre cans of hand wash has jumped manifold,” the Gurugram-based company told Quartz.

Online supermarket Grofers said it has run out of its in-house hand sanitiser brand, O’range, as demand for hygiene products jumped 400% in the first week of March. “With the rise in coronavirus cases, people are being cautious. They are proactively adopting hygiene products resulting in higher sales of such items,” said Albinder Dhindsa, CEO and co-founder of Grofers.

Demand for masks and sanitisers is not only increasing in cities where cases of coronavirus have been confirmed, retailers said. Smaller cities such as Surat and Coimbatore have also seen an uptick in sales of these items.

Ayurvedic health products, too, are gaining traction among Indians.

Upakarma Ayurveda, a Delhi-based firm selling ayurvedic products has seen a 15% spike in the demand for herb-based immunity-boosters such as Shilajit and Ashwagandha in the past two months. “People are opting for various precautionary measures to avoid getting infected by (the) novel coronavirus. They are taking Ayurveda seriously to boost immunity,” said Vishal Kaushik, founder and managing director, Upakarma Ayurveda.

Maintaining supplies

Several sellers said they fear they will soon run out of supplies.

“We had adequate stocks of N95 masks when the air quality deteriorated in Delhi late last year, but no one saw Covid-19 coming. We’re bound to run out of stock as the virus scare and the demand for masks increases by the hour,” said Vikas Bagaria, founder of PeeSafe.

Such shortage has resulted in unscrupulous retailers selling masks to customers at inflated prices. For example, N95 mask, which costs Rs150 ($2.03) is being sold for up to Rs500 in the market by some chemists. On March 4, India’s health minister Harsh Vardhan warned retailers against overpricing.

But makers may soon not have an option other than increasing prices. “Due to higher demand for hygiene products, the cost of ingredients used in sanitisers is under pressure and will go up further,” said Dhindsa of Grofers.

To meet the growing demand, the country’s fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies are looking to increase production. “We have ramped up production of Godrej Protekt hand wash and sanitisers in our units as well as through our vendor partner units,” said Sunil Kataria, CEO (India & SAARC), at Mumbai-based FMCG firm Godrej Consumer Products, without revealing the quantum of increase in the production.

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