Decoding the ‘Lockdown’ Supply Chain of High demand and perceived scarcity

Aditya Vazirani, CEO, Robinsons Global Logistics Solutions

Even as the Indian state and central government announces various steps to contain the COVID-19 pandemic in India through an extended lockdown, Indian households continue to battle fear of scarcity and uncertainty over access to daily essentials.

While the government has recently announced a the list of sectors that can resume operations from 20th April, Including the flow of goods in the country, across district and state borders, the perceived scarcity of essentials continues to plague those confined in their homes, in a bid to fight the infection.

While people are following instructions like social distancing, wearing of masks, and sanitising hands etc., the frequent outpouring of people to the liquor stores, grocery stores and super markets has also presented a risk of spreading infection, as a large number of people throng the area.

In addition to the risk of spreading infection, this bulk buying and hoarding due to perceived scarcity of essentials, has also gravely impacted the food and essentials supply chain, causing stress across the manufacturing, FMCG and food supply chain across the country.  Breaking down this cause and effect, we can understand the impact, as under:

1. Bulk Buying and Hoarding:

For an average person who would purchase an X amount of grocery and stapes for a family of four, now ends of bulk buying and hoarding, purchasing up to 3 to 4X for every trip to the grocery store. This results in unavailability for the other consumers, who also seek to purchase up to 2 to 3X times their regular consumption, in the bid to escape the fear of scarcity.

With almost every consumer exhibiting similar 2-4 times enhanced consumption, the retail supply chain immediately comes under stress, to help match up the sudden increase in demand.

It is important to note here that while the consumption seems to have increased, from the purchase patterns, in reality, the end user is consuming the same amount as they did earlier. The only difference is in the hoarding of inventory.

2. Sluggish supply chain:

The stress created due to the sudden rise in demand is further intensified with the slowing down of the supply chain, with lock down restrictions that has made transportation slow and sporadic.

On the other hand, warehouses are also either stuck with a huge inventory, that is just sitting there, waiting to be transported, or is facing challenges with specialised storage for perishables and lack of manpower to manage the warehouses.

In addition to the challenges in movement of goods and build-up of inventory in the warehouses, the logistics and supply chain sector is also marred with a severe shortage of manpower, further resulting in delays, reduced supplies, and sporadic, inconsistent deliveries.

3. Impaired manufacturing:

While the government has announced select manufacturing units to remain operational so as to ensure regular availability of FMCG and daily essential, the sudden rise in demand and the half capacity operations are contradictories that are throwing this balance off gear.

While most manufacturers do have a backup inventory that can ensure uninterrupted supply for a shorter span, the extended lockdown and the continuous hoarding and bulk buying, are only adding to the problem that has become a vicious cycle. 

Having said this, it is time to re-look at the consumption patterns, and, from an end consumer point of view, create awareness about conscious consumption.

With the help of last mile service providers such as LoveLocal, BigBasket, Scootsy, Swiggy, Dunzo and Zomato etc., the industry has been trying to create a more accessible and steady supply for essentials. But for the cycle to break, a vital question on consumption patterns needs to be address at the earliest.

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