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New Delhi: Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) firms are trying to minimize mobilization of sales staff and not looking to expand their distribution networks in view of the massive spike in coronavirus cases, and are instead opting for virtual orders to keep their frontline workers safe.

Britannia Industries, Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), Parle Products and GCPL, among others, said they are keeping a tab on frontline staff.

“In times like this, we are actually asking our salespeople not to go to the market. So again, we are going to see a downtrend as far as our distribution is concerned; there will be a lot more sales on telephone and a lot more wholesale trade during this time. I think, it’s unfortunate, because you build your distribution and then something like this happens and you have no choice but to tread on the side of caution as far as your employees are concerned. This wave just seems to be a very, very vicious wave of covid," Varun Berry, managing director, Britannia Industries, said in a post-earnings call this week.

The second wave has led to a record number of daily infections and climbing death rates.

Last year’s pan-India lockdown had disrupted supplies to all companies, including in the procurement of raw material, production and access to the market. Even though the companies are in better control of production and supplies, the infection has taken its toll on sales staff and other frontline workers.

“As far as salesmen are concerned, yes we are also concerned because there are pockets where despite our very high standards and protocols, people have got impacted. Our entire focus has been on how we best look after them," said Sanjiv Mehta, chairman and managing director, HUL. “One of the steps that we are very clear about is that we will facilitate and, if necessary, pay for the vaccination of not just our employees and their families, but all the people who are in our ecosystem. Which comes to nearly about 300,000 people, including the salesmen. But yes, we also have our fair share of people who have been infected," he added.

HUL said 90% of eligible employees have been inoculated with the first dose. “Supply is an important element given the localized restrictions. Today, our capacity available is 1.3x where we were pre-covid. We have initiated multiple models to make sure stocks are available downstream and, therefore, closer to the consumers," said Srinivas Phatak, HUL’s chief financial officer in a post-earnings call.

“We have driven the digital agenda hard. And today, more than 500,000 outlets can order digitally...We have almost added at the rate of 1,000 outlets a day in the last year to create this capacity," he said.

In an earlier interview, Sunil Kataria, chief executive, India and SAARC, Godrej Consumer Products, said as a precautionary step it had advised its sales teams to work from home. Kataria said over the last year, the company has leveraged technology and built systems to manage different aspects of its sales and engage with partners in the ecosystem, which is helping the company ensure stocks reach markets.

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