Consumer goods companies are slowly finding ways to tackle the shortage of manpower and transportation facilities in ensuring adequate stock of essential packaged goods, such as staples, soaps, toothpaste and detergents, in the market.
Special buses have been arranged by Dabur India Ltd to help workers and staff reach the manufacturing units, said executive director, operations, Shahrukh Khan. However, the availability of raw material and packaging material remains a challenge due to the restricted movement of trucks.
The vehicles used by the company for transporting raw material and packaging material for hygiene products, such as hand sanitizers, are stuck at state borders. “A lot of time is being spent on sorting out administrative issues at the state level," Khan said.
The Centre’s guidelines should be properly communicated to authorities across states and to the local police, he said. “Proper implementation of these guidelines will ensure seamless movement of raw materials and finished goods across state borders. There is a similar issue being faced at ports, which is hurting the smooth movement of imported raw materials and exporting of finished products," he added.
At Nobel Hygiene, the maker of adult diapers Friends and baby diapers Teddyy, the problem is twofold. “There is a problem in getting people to work and ensuring our finished products reach the market. We have a couple of mini buses that carry 35 people each. However, because of the announcements about social distancing, only 8-10 people can travel in each vehicle," said Kartik Johari, vice-president, Nobel Hygiene. “We are taking pains to educate people on the coronavirus and making them understand that we are in an essential products category."
The fear of the disease and migration has affected transport logistics, he said. “Truck drivers and delivery people who are mostly migrants have either fled or don’t want to take the risk."
A Hindustan Unilever spokesperson, however, said that several of the companies’ plants, which manufacture products such as hand sanitizers, soaps and disinfectants, are functioning with limited capacity. “As the government has mandated social distancing, we cannot engage our entire workforce and have instructed our plant managers accordingly," the person said.
HUL has seen an improvement in transportation as its trucks have got stickers from the authorities that allow them to move their products. “We are not facing much of a transportation problem now," the spokesperson said.
A top executive at a large packaged foods firm, however, said that “things were pretty bad". “We are not producing at full capacity in our plants because of labour issues. Production is down by 20-40% overall," he said, requesting anonymity. “Getting labour to work is a big issue as they prefer the security of their homes."
Supplies of essential goods were disrupted across the country as large producers of packaged consumer goods had to suspend production and shutter warehouses because of the lockdown. Companies were not being to able move stock from plants to warehouses for several days. Suppliers and distributors, too, were unable to move stock to kirana stores and large grocery stores because of the restrictions.
Relief has come in the form of a Sunday order by the home ministry that authorized the transportation of all goods, without distinguishing them as essential or non-essential. The clarification followed persistent demands from big fast-moving consumer goods companies who make items of daily needs and feared a possible shortage in household goods supplies.
Encouraged by the guidelines that now allow movement of non-essential goods, Capital Foods Pvt Ltd aims to resume operations at two of its plants this week, said its chief executive officer, Navin Tewari. The maker of Ching’s Secret brand of noodles and other desi Chinese condiments saw its units shuttered as part of the lockdown.