COVID-19: How grocers in Hyderabad are catalysing a new breed of business ideas during lockdown

Vendors and shopkeepers in and around Hyderabad become the true heroes for the city’s households

Updated - April 06, 2020 04:45 pm IST

Published - April 06, 2020 03:24 pm IST - Hyderabad

Necessity is the mother of invention. That was how all modern equipment, starting with the wheel, was invented. Cut to 2020, the wheels are locked, factories are silent, malls wear a deserted look. As people sit at home and plan the grand walk-out once the lockdown ends, there are a few people at the grassroots who are making life indoors easier for us all. Small vendors, the newspaper boys, vegetable vendors, chemists, the municipal garbage collection team, apart from the tiring work of the policemen and the state administration.

Indians are learning something new for the first time: they are standing in queues, not eager to push or breathe down anyone else’s neck while standing in the queue.

Needed communication

The chemists at Balaji Medical, are patiently explaining to people why they should maintain distance as one customer argues over an extra strip of anti anxiety tablets. “We are not allowed to sell beyond these numbers. Please try and understand. We are all working here with a lot of risks to our lives and I don’t have the patience to argue about it,” the man behind the counter pleads even as he wipes the card machine every ten minutes to keep it germ free for him and the customers.

The initial days had been a little hard for all of us as we struggled to get vegetables, milk, eggs, etcetera. After the system was streamlined, there is hardly anyone who is heard complaining of non-availability of vegetables. Did you for once, wonder how it all takes place in the market? While we are home worrying about our next meal, we are hardly aware of the vendors’ plight, exposing themselves to the virus.

Venkat R, a cycle vendor at Sainikpuri tells he goes to the ‘big’ market at 3 am. “Keep my number. You can tell me whatever fruits, vegetables you require. Please inform me the previous day so that I can make a list,” he said.

Interestingly, Venkat’s regular job is different; he works at a garments shop on a daily wage basis. No shop, no wage, “so I decided to sell vegetables. I thought it would be difficult, but it is going smooth. Some people are kind and buy everything to be distributed amongst those who cannot afford to buy. Some haggle even in times like these. I carry soap with me. I request some people gauge their treatment and wash my hands. I don’t have a mask, so I cover my mouth and nose with my towel. I am thankful, it is not very hot,” said Venkat.

The rise in demand

It is not just the small vendors who are working extra hours to ensure our kitchens are functioning smoothly. Door to door independent online vendors are at the receiving end for non delivery of goods. The vendors however are not losing their cool. “We hadn’t anticipated anything like this so it took us sometime to streamline. Especially with perishable goods we have to be extra careful. We have divided our packaging and delivery team and made sure the packaging team is under quarantine to ensure they are safe. Demand has gone up by 15 times and we are working on limited staff. So there is a crisis. We have sent out messages to our subscribers that we will be delivering till 6.30 pm and to raise complaints after 8 pm so that we can attend to the order the following day,” says Sharath Gattu of Kiaro Foods.

“There is ample production, we are with limited workforce because of the lockdown. At the same time we had to upgrade our entire system because of the sudden demand.”

Fish vendor Narasimha N is glad he is able to step out to the market. He says he is financially doing well to sustain his family of four for another couple of weeks, it is the incessant calls of his daily customers that had him worried. “I am a home vendor so when my customers don't see me for a few days they get worried. This time too, they called first to enquire about my health and then the requests for specific fishes came. The market wasn’t open until last week. The moment we got news of it being opened, I dashed early to get stock. With the safety measures that we have to adopt, we are spending longer time in the queue. So instead of my usual time I am heading to the market at early hours,” explains Narasimha.

Farm-to-home systems like Sahaja Aharam have changed their working hours to meet the 18 hour farm-to-home timeline. Fresh vegetables come from Mulugu in Siddipet and Jangaon. The harvest happens at wee hours followed by grading and segregation. Once done they are loaded in the vehicles, brought to the city and we need to make sure the vehicles reach their villages before the curfew time. Since time was the challenge we have reworked our work schedule.

Tough times call for tough decision, so pan shop owner Raju in the Yapral area decided to meet the family needs by selling vegetables outside his house. “Thankfully I live by the side of the road. It is easier to set shop and stay close to home,” he says.

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