We look forward to immediately procuring food staples from India
The unprecedented times of the pandemic have surely made the entire globe to fall under a single umbrella. Coping up with the surging demand and sudden “out of stocks” at the retail and grocery stores have not come that easy. However, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers across the globe seem united in the difficult times and are seen giving their best shots to sail the catastrophe together.
Australian wholesaler of food products, Mr. Dean Hasnat, Director, Ostindo International PTY LTD, speaks to IndusFood on the impact that the pandemic has made on food stocks at his stores and also the measures he plans to take to drift his business through the opposite currents.
IndusFood: What possible impact of the pandemic do you see on your business and Retails?
Mr. Dean Hasnat: As an impact of the Covid Crisis, our business has had to respond and manage the challenges that a world-wide pandemic has caused on our supply chains, customers, services and our employees. Restaurants have been closed. People cannot move about. Many takeaways are open, online apps can arrange the pick-ups and deliveries to homes, but actual sit-downs are currently closed. This is having a significant & material impact on food services which do not have pickup or delivery services. However, we have noticed that restaurants that have adapted quickly and in key areas are doing well and ordering good volumes. This is a positive outcome for those businesses that could have otherwise been completely shut down.
In Retails, we saw a lot of “panic buying” of staples in Australia, through the month of March. Australian retailers and supermarkets were heavily shopped by consumers for essential staples as rice, lentils, and spices. The retailers have been hit by a lot of “out-of-stocks” due to the extreme panic buying and thus retailers simply could not cope up with the demand. Resultantly, shelves at many stores were empty. So, it was actually the empty shelves that were propelling consumers to buy even more than what was required. Retailers enforced “limit buying” to reduce panic buying and make purchasing more equitable for all customers. This is the same strategy we implemented to support our long term loyal customers and key retailers.
As the infection now seems to settle down, “panic buy” by the consumers has reduced as confidence has grown in Australian’s control of the spread of COVID-19. Also, people have seen retails, grocery shops, supermarkets and hypermarkets being opened in the trying times too, so today Australia expects less panic buying and thus a better situation for retails and customers too.
IndusFood: How do you plan to address the surge in demand and manage the delay in delivery?
DH: Our retail space has grown exponentially during the panic buy and we were initially inundated with very large orders from new and existing customers. We responded quickly to meet the demands of our customers by increasing our warehouse and delivery hours and ascertaining supply lines was key to securing stock. We forecasted volumes, identified potential issues, utilized our connections to incorporate new suppliers from different countries or regions and were in constant communication with our suppliers and government officials to get the latest developments and act accordingly. As a result, we were also able to establish new lines in key retailers as their previous suppliers were unable to procure stock.
However, as COVID spread throughout the world, the panic buying continued and we couldn’t replenish all our stocks. For us as an importer and local wholesaler, unfortunately we could not increase our overseas inventory infused by this unrelenting and extensive panic buying. To manage this ongoing situation, we increased our orders from countries who were still operational, sourced locally substitutions were possible, enforced restrictions on quantities on certain products to support an equitable access model and managed stocks we had in hand for orders.
The most challenging time for us was when India moved into a full lockdown in a matter of hours. Our dispatches were stuck at the port or at the factory and our current orders couldn’t be fulfilled. Fortunately, we were able to arrange some stock through our existing suppliers in other countries that were not in lock down. As India extended the lock down, it was increasingly difficult to replenish our stocks that were utilised during the panic buying. India has now commenced work at factories now so we are scheduled to receive our orders soon.
IndusFood: What immediate procurement from India are you looking for amidst the pandemic? What challenges do you see down the line?
DH: The panic buying took down our stock level by about 2.5k-3k pallets. We are running short by this quantity across our wholesale business at the moment. (At the time when interview was taken)
The panic buying rendered most of the commodity products like rice, lentils, spices etc. to run out of stock. The best way to address this is if we can, by any way, work with our suppliers and get the shipments. We do have suppliers in other countries which we had to increase the order from but more or less we are relying on India.
The challenges have been quite significant. Due to the lockdown the factories in India are not able to work. Although, few have been working with minimal staff as they fall under essentials, many still are completely shut. Resultantly, in the second half of April, my suppliers have failed to have any output effectively for the last month. Now, many of our sellers have started their operations with minimum staff to produce our orders but the absence of labour remains another big challenge for them. The laborers are stuck in other states. Besides, there are restrictions on lorries and inter-state movement was prohibited all of which means our orders could not reach the port. There have been difficulties in paper work from home also. There are certain GOV declarations that we need to produce which have been really difficult to obtain at the moment due to government services which are closed. It’s been difficult. Through this medium, I would like to praise our suppliers. They have been doing everything they could to get the goods released which are stuck in these difficult times and to clear our shipments. The commitment our suppliers have shown to supporting the business is commendable and puts both businesses in good stead for the future.
IndusFood: What hygiene norms can be expected from your end to be followed by manufacturers back in India while production and dispatch?
DH: We are in constant communication with our suppliers and manufacturing units. The key messages are good hygiene including hand, cough and sneeze protocols, good manufacturing processes in cleaning and sanitation and social distancing, all of which are enforced by our suppliers. Our suppliers are following Indian GOV guidelines and taking the utmost care that the staff which are currently working in the factory is free from any viral infection. All our suppliers are certified by an external company to ensure food safety standards at an international level are met. In addition, the product is tested and analysed, subject to Australian importing guidelines and inspections.
IndusFood: What hygiene and safety norms are you following at your stores?
DH: All the non-essential staff are working from home. We take up E-meetings. Within the office there are demarcations of minimum distances to be kept between employees. External visitors are not allowed unless they are providing essential services from Australian GOV. We split our employees into staggered shift times, created an extra lunchroom and set staggered break times so that we can maintain GOV prescribed distances and no. of people should be per cubic meter each time. Cleaning and sanitation measures have been increased, including regular touch points. Hand sanitizer is available to all staff including delivery drivers and sales representatives; individual cleaning equipment for all office stations and First Aid training for the COVID Team to manage COVID scenarios. There is constant communication with our employees via email and notice boards regarding Australian GOV requirements and compliance. Our employees have demonstrated excellent hygiene practices and social distancing and we are really proud of how they have taken on board the changes to the way they work, which has kept themselves and others safe.
IndusFood: Is there any innovation by you in the last mile delivery or hygiene norms?
DH: The Australian GOV has been quite prescriptive at stating what businesses and services should run and how it should work. We follow the GOV norms and disseminate that information to the team to make sure that everybody is aware and following the protocols. Our Crisis Management Plan was enacted to address health and safety requirements, finance management, supply chain, and other issues that the crisis might trigger. This ensured that we could roll out the plan, cover all areas properly and navigate during this turbulent time. We have managed to keep our business protected and strengthen our ability to perform and engage new contacts and develop new ranges. Our investment in our relationships with our suppliers and customers has enabled us to also focus on life after COVID whilst meeting all health and safety requirements.
IndusFood: How do you see technology, AI, and automation taking over in days to come?
DH: The pandemic has changed the way we use technology. We are using technology in so many different ways and on a variety of platforms in unprecedented numbers. We are investing in the digital relationship that customers have and we also want to reach customers beyond our existing channels. We are fortunate to be part of the food landscape as many people are passionate about food already and love to blog, snap and share digitally. We will continue to reflect and adapt our business to emerge stronger from the pandemic and technology has a key role in our plan. See, this virus has made us take up things & technologies which we could have never taken up earlier for immediate use. Surely, the coming days will see a lot of innovation and will drive the era. As COVID spread through the various countries, we could see how different countries responded to the pandemic and how it could bring about two very different outcomes.