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Frontline essential workers bear the brunt of new wave

Online grocery delivery platform Grofers admitted that the rise in the number of covid-19 cases across the country has led to an unfortunate impact on delivery. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/MintPremium
Online grocery delivery platform Grofers admitted that the rise in the number of covid-19 cases across the country has led to an unfortunate impact on delivery. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

  • Companies across fast-moving consumer goods makers, online grocers and business-to-business startups said 5-15% of their frontline staff could be affected by the virus
  • This may affect supplies to retailers as well as prolong delivery timelines of essential goods

NEW DELHI : The devastating health crisis is impacting frontline workers in the essential goods sector, including delivery executives, distributors, traders and retailers, and can potentially affect supplies that companies have so far managed to maintain.

Companies such as fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) makers, online grocers and business-to-business startups Mint spoke to said between 5% and 15% of frontline staff could be affected by the virus. This, they said, is creating a manpower challenge, unlike last year.

“The exposure of our frontline sales staff is high as they move across multiple locations through the day. As a precautionary step, we have already advised our sales teams to not go to the market and work from home," said Sunil Kataria, chief executive officer, India & SAARC at FMCG company Godrej Consumer Products Ltd.

The situation is especially grave in markets such as Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Delhi-NCR, said Venkatesh Vijayaraghavan, CEO and director, personal care and alliances at CavinKare.

Vijayaraghavan estimates that at the national level, the number of frontline staff affected could be 5%. “But if I look at very state-specific data, it could be as high as 15%," he said, adding that it was a cause for concern. “There’s a marked difference versus last time when people were able to move around with precautions. This time, there’s a very marked increase in terms of the front-end people getting affected, including our own salespeople and distributors."

“If the distribution system gets affected, the whole godown gets shut down, and then you won’t be able to supply to retailers," he added.

The company is trying to mitigate the crisis by ensuring existing staff can double up for those affected.

Vijayaraghavan said online retailers are struggling with a manpower crunch on account of the virus. CavinKare is extending support to those affected.

An executive working at a large business-to-business FMCG services provider said at least 10-15% of frontline staff, including workers at distributors of FMCG and online delivery executives, could be sick. This could prolong delivery timelines, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A spokesperson for online grocery delivery platform Grofers admitted that the rise in the number of covid-19 cases has led to an unfortunate impact on delivery, especially with the surge in orders being placed on its platform.

While Grofers declined to share the number of workers affected by the virus, it said it is continuously monitoring the situation.

“We have been (paying for and) regularly conducting RT-PCR and antigen tests for all of them. We are also covering the cost of vaccination for them (eligibility as per age). In the unfortunate event of any of our delivery or warehouse personnel testing positive, the company provides paid leaves, medical benefits and hospitalization expenses," the Grofers spokesperson said.

To ensure timely deliveries, Grofers said it has already hired over 2,000 people pan-India and plans to add over 7,000 workers across its supply chain.

Other companies, too, are taking steps to minimize the field workforce. They are ensuring interventions like extending virtual orders, sending minimal frontline staff on the field, stepping up localized hiring and making sure that they follow more precautions on the ground apart from providing medical assistance to those in need.

“Our regional sales offices have been shut and the teams are working from home. If anyone has to go to the market for a truly exceptional reason, this can be done only with permission of their supervisor," said Godrej’s Kataria.

Godrej Consumer, the maker of Cinthol soaps and Hit mosquito repellents, said its move to leverage technology to manage different aspects of its sales systems, as well as engage with partners across its ecosystem, is holding it in good stead.

“Our CFA (carrying and forwarding agents) and distributors are working, and billings happen from the warehouses to distributors. Additionally, our regional commercial teams are operating online from home to provide commercial support," said Kataria.

SnapBizz, which offers billing, retail analytics and distribution services to kirana stores, said a survey it did of 1,000 stores recently showed that small shopkeepers too are dealing with the virus. “Literally, everybody has somebody in the family sick," said Prem Kumar, founder and CEO of SnapBizz. As a result, shops, too, are getting constrained.

So far, most companies are not reporting any manufacturing-related disruptions. Kataria said on the factory front, its workforce is mostly intact. “All our sites are running at full capacity. Since last year, we have instituted multiple safety protocols to safeguard the health of our workers," he said.

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