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Home >News >India >Parle-G, coronavirus and the millions who ate that biscuit as they went home

NEW DELHI: Parle-G, born 1939, is the world’s largest selling biscuit brand, coming in packs costing as little as Rs2. It’s said that if one stacked all the Parle-G biscuits produced in a month on top of each other, the distance between the Earth and the moon would be covered. Generations remember dunking the ‘oh so-soluble’ biscuit in milk and tea or even water for the sudden energy that it provides.

After more than eight decades of its existence, mothers, in villages and cities alike, still use the omnipresent biscuit not just as a food item but also as a pacifier for their children. Willy-nilly, it has become some sort of an indicator for the way many Indians go about living their lives.

Last August, the company had to do a lot of fire fighting after a company official came on a business news channel and said the economic downturn had hit the company hard and that its sales were falling. The economy had indeed begun to slip by then but still had its naysayers. They blamed the company for not recognizing that Parle-G catered to the bottom of the pyramid and that the new prosperity had led Indians to turn to more premium offerings like cookies, chips and waffles. A new-found health consciousness was also ‘credited’ for people shunning low-value sugar-laced products like Parle-G.

The company made headlines again Tuesday, this time for something opposite. A company official told The Economic Times that Parle-G notched record sales in the lockdown period of March, April and May. So, do people turn to biscuits in times of crisis, with job losses happening and incomes falling? The answer isn’t a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It is a little more complex.

With the virus refusing to go away and the lockdown getting extended, the federal and the state governments were forced to extend the lockdown in various installments. In this period, factories shut, leaving labourers, many of whom survived on daily wages, jobless. For several, a job was their only source of income. This left them with no option but to head home. As they packed their bags and trudged or took buses and trains home, they carried packs of that biscuit – Parle-G – to feed themselves and their children. In many cases, it would go on to be their only source of nourishment over journeys lasting thousands of kilometers in this large country.

“It was primarily because of increase in demand—consumption was high because people bought more during the lockdown, made new dishes and hoarded food, as a result snacking occasions in India went up," Mayank Shah, category head, Parle Products, said.

According to Shah, “pantry loading" happened as biscuits have a long shelf life. “So people stocked up," he said. Shah didn’t say this but panic buying surely had a role in it as consumers, worried about foodstocks running out because of an extended lockdown, bought far more quantities than what they would in normal times.

Another thing that helped Parle Products clinch record sales were the good samaritans buying sacks of biscuits for distributing to the migrants they would meet on expressways, bypasses and various roads of the states.

Shah added that Parle-G became the go-to option for many, while for many it was the only food option available. "This is a common man's biscuit; people who cannot afford bread, buy Parle-G," said Shah. He added that several state governments also requisitioned biscuits and several non-governmental organizations also bought in huge quantities.

With inputs from Suneera Tandon.


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