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Day 3 of lockdown: Patchy supply, delivery boy shortage rattles e-tailers, retailers

A grocery shop employee, wearing face mask as a precaution against coronavirus, calls a customer living on the second floor to come down to receive their delivery in New Delhi (Photo: AP)Premium
A grocery shop employee, wearing face mask as a precaution against coronavirus, calls a customer living on the second floor to come down to receive their delivery in New Delhi (Photo: AP)

  • Grofers said on Friday that 90% of its warehouses and 50% of delivery partners are operational, with relevant permissions
  • Basic supplies of bread and eggs are in shortage, while supply of milk is patchy, said a top executive of a large grocery and hypermarket company

Bengaluru/New Delhi/Mumbai/Ernakulam: Retailers and online delivery firms are worried about the shortage of delivery executives and essential food items, as the three-week countrywide lockdown entered the third day.

While things have marginally improved since day one of the lockdown, with some states being proactive and working towards resolving operational issues, a disintegrated supply chain of essential goods is likely to cause paucity in stores and online platforms.

Basic supplies of bread and eggs are in shortage, while supply of milk is patchy, said a top executive of a large grocery and hypermarket company, who asked not to be named.

On the Big Basket app on Friday, flour or atta, pulses (arhar dal), spices, cheese and butter were out of stock. Frozen food stuff like aloo tikki could also not be ordered.

The app showed that it had started servicing in Gurugram but due to a massive backlog of orders and operational constraints, all slots were closed.

“We are hoping to clear the backlog and build capacity in the next 2-3 days."

Big Basket TN Hari's tweeted saying, “Teams in every city are working hard against all odds to keep operations going, overcome capacity constraints, and deal with friction on the ground to continue to deliver orders."

Grofers said on Friday that 90% of its warehouses and 50% of delivery partners are operational, with relevant permissions.

Karthik Venkateswaran, co-founder and CEO, Jumbotail, an online wholesale market for food and grocery, said there is at least 30-40% shortage of delivery staff.

“...The staff shortage is across the value chain - warehouse workers and manufacturing units. Currently the safety stock held in the value chain is serving the demand. However, if manufacturing does not resume, it will start impacting product availability," said Venkateshwaran.

“...While home-delivery order volumes have increased by 3-5x, companies are operating at a 40-60% capacity only. This leads to an increase in transaction time and impacts driver efficiency. Companies are also seeing a change in their source of supply. They are redesigning the flow of their network or considering contingency measures to make sure that they have alternate suppliers without a key change in their landing cost," said Nishith Rastogi, CEO and co-founder, Locus, a Bengaluru-based logistics tech startup

“...Around 60% of the staff has stopped coming, so 40% capacity in cities except Bengaluru. In Maharashtra and Hyderabad, we had to shut down. Bengaluru is better and we are at 70% capacity," said Shan Kadavil, CEO and co-founder of FreshToHome, an online delivery firm.

In Kerala, which critically depends on other states for its food sources, onions are short in supply and so is fish, with the closing down of the harbour.

Not only is it creating a drastic change in food habits, with many going back in time to eat traditional rice porridge, but it has created a huge impact on the lives of those dependent on food sales, especially some 1.4 million coastal families that depend on fishing.

Prices are also up. Indian mackerel, for instance, which used to be sold at a retail price of 100 a kg previously, now costs upwards of 200 a kg in Kerala. However, bakeries were made essential services and asked to open from Thursday in the southern state.

Retailers—both online and offline—said they are also experiencing acute shortage of manpower with delivery executives and sales staff not being present at work, while others are seeing restricted movement due to the heavy lockdowns.

Incidents of delivery executives and staff being beaten up have created panic among employees and many of them have also returned to their native towns.

“Now the issue is that labour is very scared. Truckers are scared of putting vehicles on the road. Across the south, truck rates have gone up by 20-30% overnight which means that our pulses’ rates have gone up by 12-13% overnight," the person quoted above said

Retailers apart, many fast moving consumer goods makers are also struggling to ensure a regular supply of their stock to the shops, as their own supply chains are disrupted by the lockdown.

Varun Berry, managing director, Britannia Industries Ltd on Thursday said that the supply chain of the packaged food industry is disaggregated and dependent on inter-state movement of goods.

“Due to the nature of the materials, inventories across the chain are low. If even one link in the supply chain is broken, the country could run of stocks of packaged food in the next 7-10 days," Berry warned.

Agricultural Produce Market Committe (APMC), Yeshwantpur committee chairman, Ramesh Chandra Lohati said that from Monday, the wholesale market will work only on alternate days.“Until stocks come, our position is very difficult after Monday. Pulses may last till Wednesday, rice will last another seven days, sugar and wheat for another couple of days. The shortage is because of panic buying. Bengaluru can manage for the 21 days since retailers are open. But the supply chain is cut off as of now," Lohati said.

APMC at Yeshwantpur caters to around 2.5 crore people in Bengaluru and surrounding areas.

Piyush Goyal, minister of railways and commerce tweeted on Friday: “Railways is making all efforts to ensure availability of essential commodities through uninterrupted services. In last 4 days, more than 1.6 lacs wagons carried supplies out of which 1 lac were of essential commodities like milk, foodgrains & coal."

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